- Released Internationally on 19/09/08
- Released in Malta by KRS on 29/10/08
In a nutshell
Set in the late 19th century, this is a western about two friends who help defend a small town from a threatening rancher, but whose friendship is itself threatened when an attractive widow arrives in town.
Who’s in it?
Ed Harris, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, plays Virgin Cole, the older of the two lawmen, while Viggo Mortensen plays his sidekick. Jeremy Irons is the bad guy, and Renée Zellweger is the lass who stirs things up.
Why we’re hyped
Although there’s no doubting his credentials as an actor, this is only Harris’ second outing as a director. He passed the test with flying colours on his first film – the acclaimed artist biopic Pollock, in which he also starred as the troubled painter. Viggo Mortensen is quickly becoming one of the most reliable leading men around, and he was easily one of last year’s most interesting characters when he transformed himself into a Russian mobster for Eastern Promises. The quality of westerns has varied greatly over the past twenty years, but last year saw a mini-revival with two beautiful old-fashioned westerns – 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Let’s hope this one follows that trend.
Wild Wild West
Ed Harris has crafted a memorable western which delivers all the ingredients westerns are famous for. Within minutes of the opening credits, it's clearly evident who the bad guy is - Jeremy Irons need only use his grim stare and his rumbling rich voice to leave us no doubt as to which side he's on. Him and his henchman are immediately up to no good, and before long the good guys come riding into town to save the day. Over the next two hours we have lawmen, saloons, horses, fist-fights, shootouts, and loads of wonderful scenery, and it's all a joy to watch.
Just a Western?
I'm not fond of those who define films simply by their genre. Westerns very often get pigeon-holed as if they're all variations on the same theme, when really the setting is just providing a back-drop for a story, just like a science-fiction film or a romantic comedy. And like any genre, a western with a limp story often ends up as a drag, whilst westerns with a great plot at their core often work wonderfully as a film. This one falls into the latter category. What starts off as a simple good vs. bad challenge soon rides off at a tangent as a feisty love interest strolls into town. Things get complicated, and before long we're being led on a chase across the Mexican desert.
Despite great turnouts from Harris, Irons and Zellweger, Viggo Mortensen is the one who steals the show. Once again, he inhabits an oddball character with a distinct appearance - this time he has complex facial hair to go with his outfit - and says volumes with just a few words. In last year's Eastern Promises, he was the quiet man in the corner who turned out to be the most reliable man around, and here again he is happy to live in the shadow of his mentor, Cole, but it turns out he could be the only one we can truly depend on. His acting is superb, and his collection of wonderful characters here gets another worthy addition.
Cowboys have feelings too
At points the plot does slow down, as our two peace-keepers discuss the intricacies of the human heart and how to handle the new love interest, but this gives them an added dimension, rather than weaken their tough-guy appearance. They may be confused about women, but they're still the best shots for miles around. The scenes between Mortensen and Harris range from average to wonderful, and the chemistry between them as a partnership provides the only enduring relationship of the film.
In the end
Despite a slightly protracted ending, the film builds to its satisfying conclusion and leaves no frayed ends. Irrespective of the genre, this is a good story which is worth watching, and the characters add substance to an wonderfully-directed film. Even if westerns don't usually float your boat, you should give this one a try.