Each Monday, I share reviews of Westerns I’m studying to prepare for making 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 Twenty Nine: The Outsider & Flesh and the Spur


The Outsider


Truth be told, this is my first experience with a “Trace Adkins Western”. He’s become for streaming what Tom Selleck was for TV Westerns in the 90s/00s and I decided his work could no longer be ignored.

Thankfully, he is the best part of this film which encourages me to watch more of his films. Sadly, he is one of the only parts of the film that works well. His performance is grounded and has weight. He balances good and bad. He echoes the Western stars of old without getting cheesy with it (except for a few lines).

Unfortunately, the script does not carry the rest of this film to success. As I’ve complained before about new Westerns, it doesn’t have an ounce of subtext. Every line of dialog is ultra-literal and ultimately boring. How have these writers totally detached themselves from the idea of subtext? Even the script for the B-Western I watched this week, Flesh and the Spur, has more meat to it, more underlining meaning than The Outsider.

There’s also a serious lack of character development. Who is this Jing character? Why is he a martial arts expert or should we just assume that all Chinese people are? Furthermore, why did they cast an actor who is half-Chinese, half-Irish (it’s abundantly clear that he doesn’t look full Chinese) without explaining it? There’s no background for his character or the tracker. Their friendship is also half-baked and forged way too quickly. Plain and simple, it’s lazy storytelling.

The action is pretty silly, especially the Rocky-style final fight. I do like the look of the film, shot well with a great Noir-like darkness but other than that and Adkins, this film doesn’t have strong legs to stand on. Hopefully the next film I watch from the country star will be more sturdy.

Seen on Netflix.


Flesh and the Spur


Sometimes it’s fun to stray away from the best known Westerns by the John Fords and Anthony Mann and dive real deep into the unknown “B-Westerns”. This title and poster were too enticing to not venture forth and I’m glad I did. Though the film is no gem, it certainly was worth my time.

What fascinates me most about this film and others like it is that the economy of shots (presumably dictated by the limited budget and short shooting schedule) can lead to surprising comparisons with Robert Bresson’s French masterpieces. Take for instance the inserts that introduce this film: they’re so minimal and direct that I was reminded of Bresson’s basic aesthetic. They’re also very effective and stuck with me for the remainder of the film, which unfortunately drifts away from this technique.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting things going on here. For how straight-out-of-the-can the acting is, the performers have moments of surprising subtlety and brilliance. This is certainly the case with Mike Connors who keeps the story interesting with his half-good, half-bad guy character. When he takes off recklessly after the true villains, there’s a unpredictable energy to his character and how he plays it.

Ultimately, a good portion of this movie is silly but it still contains these moments that demand serious consideration.

Seen on Amazon Prime.