Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Thirty Eight: Bad Company
Robert Benton may be the most unappreciated filmmakers in American cinema. I was talking about this with Ward Emling the other night when I mentioned this film as a point of reference for our first Western, Bastard’s Crossing. Then we recounted the other wonderful films he made, all understated, from Places in the Heart to Kramer Vs. Kramer and Nobody’s Fool.
I decided to rewatch Bad Company and am pleased with that decision. More than ever, this feels like one of the most successful “revisionist” Westerns, mostly because it doesn’t feel like it’s purposefully trying to revise anything, just to show it like it would be. The clumsiness, aimlessness, and stark violence of the Frontier come off better here than anything Arthur Penn, Michael Cimino, or the heralded “pioneers” of 70s film could put together.
Jeff Bridges’ fast-talking bandit feels ripped right out of Hearts of the West and thrown into this harsh world. It would be interesting to watch the films back to back. Barry Brown is fantastic and it makes me sad every time I see him on screen to think of the actor’s tragic end. I love the episodic nature of this film, just following the characters from one misadventure to the next. When it takes a darker turn in its second half and some of our “company” start dying, Benton does a great job of not completely losing touch with the whimsical aspect of his piece. The brilliance here is the way he balances both while also never losing his grasp on realism.
From his gray landscape photography to its sudden, bleak violence, I think Bad Company is one of the best Westerns ever made.
Seen on Amazon Prime.