Sunday, August 10, 2008

#43: The Long Riders


The Long Riders
Directed by Walter Hill
Written by Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, Stacy Keach and James Keach
Released May 16, 1980

After taking in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford last month, my interest in both James and Ford was piqued. I searched around for other movies that might have told the same story and I stumbled into The Long Riders, a 1980 Western directed by Walter Hill (most famous for films like The Warriors and 48 Hours).

The Long Riders is a much different film from the slow moving Brad Pitt/Case Affleck, in much the same way that Tombstone is different than Wyatt Earp. The former, in both cases, plays more loosely with the truth while relying as much on action as drama. Unfortunately for The Long Riders, it does not follow Tombstone in being the better film of its pair.

That's not to say it's not a decent movie. There is much to recommend about The Long Riders. It benefits from a very interesting casting "gimmick" where the four groups of siblings in the film are portrayed by four groups of Hollywood brothers. Keith, David and Robert Carradine portray the Youngers, James and Stacey Keach portray the James brothers, Dennis and Randy Quaid play the Millers, and Christopher and Nicholas Guest play Charlie and Robert Ford.

Hill does a decent job with the action scenes, and I appreciated his (intended?) tribute to Sam Peckinpah through his use of slow motion during scenes of violence. The music, by Ry Cooder, is authentic. There's some nice scenery and a few memorable scenes... and...

Well, that's the problem. As a movie, this is a sturdy, serviceable piece of film making. It's not great, it's not bad, and it's a decent way to kill 100 minutes if you happen to stumble upon it on cable some afternoon.

While the aforementioned casting gimmick is interesting, it doesn't really pay off. Some of the acting, like that of James Keach, David Carradine and Keith Carradine, is very good, while other performances (the Quaid brothers, for example) just seem out of place or not on par with the story being told. Then, you have decent but minuscule performances from Stacey Keach and more notably the Guest brothers, making you wish you could have seen a bit more of them.

The story is a bit meandering, and it's easy to lose track of both the passage of time and the location of the action. I can remember two occasions where I was surprised to discover that months had passed between scenes, and that the characters were suddenly in Texas without my knowledge. I still can't decide if it was a plus or a minus when The Warriors' James Remar showed up for a somewhat ridiculous and extraneous knife fight.

To anyone who has seen The Assassination of Jesse James, the ending of this movie comes so abruptly that you might have to stifle a laugh. That thing you waited for two hours to happen in Assassination seems as if it was crammed into this movie for the lack of a better ending. It wouldn't seem like such an odd finale if the film had up to that point presented a singular point of view. It's almost as if you were watching The Breakfast Club and, in the final 4 minutes, you were told to believe that this entire movie had been about Anthony Michael Hall's character and not the rest of the people in the room.

Although, it would be kinda awesome if Brian got shot in the back at the end of that movie.

For more on The Long Riders:
- Movie information at IMDB and a slight entry at Wikipedia
- Buy the DVD.

The official trailer:

No comments: