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 One: Lawman & Tracker
This is one of those cases where a foreign director makes his or her first “American movie” and comes off as understanding the genre better than most Americans. It happened with Polanski with Chinatown. I’d argue it also occurred with Peter Weir and Witness. And clearly, this is another instance: Michael Winner with Lawman.
The brutal Burt Lancaster picture must be one of his best and the most underrated entry in the genre I’ve seen in months. I almost skipped it, thinking, “Well, I haven’t heard much about this one so it can’t be worth a whole lot.” I should know better. The film is better than half the “classics”.
It boasts an incredible cast and not a single one of them is wasted. Cobb defies the typical patriarch-villain role, giving us something new, sympathetic, but still threatening. Ryan is sensitive, broken. Duvall brings a human touch to being an adversary. Richard Jordan almost steals the show as the impressionable gunfighter. But it’s Lancaster’s picture in the end; he dominates every frame he’s in and most of the ones he isn’t in with this incredible, minimalist performance. He appears worn out, bitter, loyal to the law, and ultimately a tragic figure. I love that being a “lawman” is defined as a killer of men. It reminds me of the great line in John Milius’ Rough Riders where he refuses to justify war, “It’s murder”.
On a technical level, I loved this film as well. It uses the dolly perhaps better than any other movie I’ve seen and practically makes that film tool a character. The locations and lighting fit perfectly with the story.
My only gripe about this film is what comes before the ending (which is powerful). I don’t quite believe the decision Lancaster makes. It’s a little unfounded and I think the script needed a scene or two to make it work.
Nevertheless, this is now one of my favorite Westerns.
Seen on Amazon Prime.
This film had a lot of promise, mostly in the form of Ray Winstone, an underrated actor with the weight to carry any picture. But this is not The Proposition. And it’s not The Tracker, Rolf de Heer’s brilliant and overlooked Western either, though it makes a mistake of using a similar title. This is far from those films because of the one thing you can’t make a good movie out of: a bad script.
It’s overwritten, stuffed with needless dialog, void of subtlety. With a subject matter and locations like these, there’s no need to pack the script with expository conversations. You just let it play! Furthermore, the motivations of the characters are never quite realized. It would have been stronger if Winstone had been on the path to his ultimate decision from the very start but, at least from my perspective, he didn’t start that direction till midway through the picture. I didn’t buy his transformation though I could feel its potential to be powerful if handled correctly.
There are some moments here but overall this film is a regretful disappointment.
Seen on Hulu.