I’ve just checked my original review for Field of Dreams (1989) it was nearly 4 years ago, a film that even then struck a chord but not in terms of my written expression for it. As time has passed my critical thinking (and maturity) have allowed me to come back to this film and at times be really moved by it. I think also life experience allows you to view the things you have differently. That and an increasing love for Burt Lancaster which I’ve mentioned a few reviews back. Now I can go into more detail with a film that maybe a little heavy on the schmaltz which can be a hallmark of either a really cheesey or a filmmaker that really knows his craft.
Now I’m not the most religious person, the notion of there being a heaven is mostly a comfort for those I have lost and said goodbye to. A coping mechanism, however that may turn out for me I’ll have to wait until I kick the bucket myself. I’ll let you know if I can, just watch for the sign, I’ll let you know nearer the time. Now imagine a possible gateway to heaven, a heaven for long dead baseball players to return to this world. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has come across one of these gateways, completely by accident. A man whose own relationship with the game is fraught with personal regret. Hearing voices is only the beginning of Rays journey of discovery.
There’s something rather quaint about the film, nearly 30 years old, like myself next year, it has aged gracefully, as have I. It has an innocence of a simpler for a whisper from the heavens of a baseball player to grab Ray’s attention and set him on a course that changes his and his families lives forever. A modern miracle for our times is being written, ok that maybe going a bit far, but he has received a message from a higher power, one that can enter and leave our existence at will. He’s soon compelled to build a baseball pitch on the edge of his corn field, putting his families future at risk over an impulse that he can’t shake. If sport or baseball were a religion, which to huge portion of America, Baseball is a big part of so many lives, then Ray is building a church, if at first for no reason other than the whisper of “If you build it, he will come.” A line that could be used as an excuse to build almost anything you can think of. But we know it’s a baseball pitch from the prologue that sets up Ray’s backstory. A collection of archive footage and doctored photographs that place both Ray’s younger self with his father. I can see the actors who play the baseball players are also added subtly for added realism, they are part of the fabric of the films history, not just getting actors who look like these old time heroes.
With the pitch built it’s waiting time, after so the families life-savings are exhausted, what was it all for? A chance to play catch with his young daughter or to wait for that “he to come”. We don’t have to wait long for Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) to turn up lout of nowhere. Amazingly it was the daughter to first witness this miracle, not Ray. The innocence of a child, still open the possibilities of life and the wonders that are out there to be discovered. Ray soon follows to see who this guy, who could have just driven up to check out the pitch, really is. There’s already a sense of wonder, something special emphasised by the soundtrack, the heavenly tones of the church out in the corn fields of Iowa where life just passes by. The next night more players are on the pitch – the Chicago White Sox A team are out there now, all the old faces of an era that has begun to fade into the memory of an older generation.
It really is seeing is believing in this film, you have to see the miracle to believe, something that Ray’s brother in-law Mark (Timothy Busfield) is not prepared to do. Seeing only what is in front of him without that added belief that allows faith to take hold in a person. Instead only interested in the realities of life, his sister’s families impending financial ruin. wanting to buy them out before the bank pulls the farm from under them. Just as things become more real, they become more interesting for the audience. A heated debate on a Terrance Mann book compels Ray to go out of his way to track him down and bring him back home to see a game. A weird thing to do, an author who has now shunned the limelight of celebrity, working on computer programs for kids, the recluse is hard to win around.
Mann played by James Earl Jones brings real experience to the film, not just his place in film history as Darth Vader but sense of having lived a life full of change of upheaval, wanting to do what was right during at the time. When Ray meets the reclusive writer it’s a war of words and a shared experience that allow this pilgrimage to continue. It’s not very often you can use religious words in a review that actually translate so well. Moving on from Boston to find Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham (Burt Lancaster) who they learn has already passed on. Again I had forgotten that he has died before we have even seen him on-screen. Built up already in previous scene, a collection of bar stool interviews that paint a full and sad picture of Lancaster’s last theatrical film role. When we meet him, we have travel back in time, a cheeky reference to the era’s films before we meet an elderly doctor walking alone, with a hint of Irish in his accent we have Lancaster and we are under his spell once more.
Trying to persuade a ghost to join him and Terrance for a match is a lot harder than we think, instead we have to wait a little longer for another miracle. As we reach the close of the film the schmaltz is poured on a lot thicker to make the non-believers in the film realise what has been going on all along. It’s a film that relies on the faith to work, to really suspend your disbelief and just wonder what if. Well you don’t really have to go far, just go to a small independent cinema when they are playing a release or a classic film for a season they are curating. They have the power to bring back to life, if only for the duration of the film these stars of the screen who have long since died. Trapped forever in celluloid that has the effect of giving them immortality. The screen is a gateway for them to return, just as the players use the corn to remain hidden and rest before coming out to pitch a few more rounds or whatever the terms are. When Terrance is invited to join them, is he being taken to meet his maker or is he just old enough to understand whats going on. Does he have enough life experience to understand the meaning life of life of what is in store for us. We will never know. Field of Dreams maybe laughable for some, for me I was sold by the miracle that happens before for Ray, his family and Terrance who all are willing to believe. It speaks to a part of me that hopes there’s something in the next life, if there is one.
I think this was one of my first James Stewart Westerns as I began to explore the genre, part of me thought it was another collaboration with Anthony Mann when in fact it was Delmer Daves who directed this rare pro-Native American film – Broken Arrow (1950). Of course this is all told from the perspective of the little known Apache sympathiser Tom Jeffords (Stewart) who I remember reading about in connection to Cochise. A prospector turned Indian Scout for the army, he was became a close friend of the Apache chief who became the reservation agent at his own request.
Of course you don’t get any of that in the 1950s it is too messy and complicated, a watered down version of the truth is more acceptable for and audience who in the same year’s being treated to some stimulating films, the audience is maturing but not enough to her the whole truth. It’s another page in the myth-making of the Wild West that’s tamed. Placing Stewart in the lead role was a clever move, one of a few actors who could be a mediator between the “savage” Apache who I have learned were more violent historically, so sadly receiving of their blurred on-screen personae. Here we don’t see Cochise and his nation picking up arms all the time. There are given screen-time and not in broken English. As Jeffords tells us –
“This is the story of a land, of the people who lived on it in the year 1870, and of a man whose name was Cochise. He was an Indian – leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. I was involved in the story and what I have to tell happened exactly as you’ll see it – the only change will be that when the Apaches speak, they will speak in our language. What took place is part of the history of Arizona and it began for me here where you see me riding.”
He’s presenting the story of the eventual downfall for a white audience in a white language, English so we can understand what is going on. We haven’t reached the sophistication of Dunbar (Kevin Costner). Of course for audiences attention the foreign language is eventually lost to allow us to fully engage with the characters, breaking down the language barrier. We also have another white actor playing a Native American, whose covered in make-up. Another selling point for the film having Jeff Chandler in the role, a familiar face. I could go into the racial depiction of the native American, but I’ve done that before, part of the fabric of the genre at the time to have non-natives playing leading roles. Is this however a question more of box-office more than anything else. Of course today this would never happen (unless your Johnny Depp) as this would cause offense.
Moving on from the casting of Cochise we see a condensed version of events that would ultimately lead to the land the Apache live on Chiricahua Mountains as their reservation. There is not actually any mention of that, but you can feel it in the background, another film dealing with the “Indian problem”. Jefford’s allows us to understand this watered down version as he wins the trust of Cochise and hopefully other Apache Nations who’re touched upon. Building up the presence of Geronimo who played a major role in the Apache wars. Depicted as defecting from the peaceful ways that Cochise is promoting, breaking away to fight the white man until his ultimate surrender.
Jeffords time with the Apache’s takes up most of the film, allowing us more of an insight into the “Others” culture that is typically war-paint, dances and bad medicine etc, all the cliché’s really. He’s not on his army mission, instead he is passing through their territory when he comes across a young man trying to survive on his own, a right of passage he must completed to become a man. He’s badly injured so receives medical treatment, the first gesture of goodwill from Jeffords. The white-washing begins here. Yet there is a need in him to learn about the culture, from an Apache who has lived among the civilised white men. His wanting to learn shows his wanting for peace, even if it earns him the name of “Indian Lover” back home.
My second viewing builds on a tame Western that is brought alive with Jame Stewart, our way into this foreign world of the other who usually treated as the other. Never again will they be treated so respectfully. You can see they want peace even in this still simplified world, we can see a culture that is clearly different but ultimately wanting peace. Otherwise we see the Nation as a dangerous savage in the background, who only engages to attack and kill before retreating or being killed. I found the relationship between Jeffords and Sonseeahray (Debra Paget) as just flimsy, however I admit she’s a reason for him to stay and make the peace work for her and himself who in the film wants to live as one of them. In reality he stays very much white and sympathetic to the Apache plights which mirrors so many others during that period of history. The relationship also acts as a draw of the female audience into this very loose and educational biopic.
Coming into this film I was bringing a lot of expectation. After reading about Jeremiah Johnson (1972) in a few books I thought I had a pretty good idea of how this film would look, feel and be. I think I set my expectations a little too high, my idea of what the film is, is completely different. Also because I haven’t been able to find it until now (neither on TV or DVD) I saw it as a more sought-after film, one that if you don’t see it you’re missing something special, which is in a way I suppose. The less accessible a film is the more you look forward to seeing it. Like friends that rarely see, you make the most of the time you have together. Jeremiah Johnson and I are not quite on those terms yet.
Another reason I wanted to see this film is part of my understanding of the Native American Western, how the sub-genre developed. I was lead to believe that Robert Redford‘s titular character would become a revered other of the Crow nation in the mountains, shedding his white civilisation past to become to the other which we have seen so many times feared in the genre. I kept thinking more about Man in the Wilderness (1971) which saw Richard Harris‘s character comes closer to reaching that transformation. His was however not out of choice, more survival. Learning the way of the mountain Natives who we see as almost god-like, they have done nothing to be feared. The built-in cliché that they are dangerous savages is not really mentioned. Both films are however set before the Civil War when most Westerns take place or there-after. Western society is still forming, still moving westward and yet to truly tackle the “Indian Problem” that we see in so many other films.
So I’ve already established my initial thoughts, the early comparison to probably a better film, what’s it all about. Staying with the idea it’s about the white man becoming the other, the one whose feared, which I believe is a reading that is nonsense to an extent. He never truly crosses over from one culture to another like Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who rejects all that is white about him. Johnson is one of the early mountain-men as we meet a few others. The type whose found in other westerns whose respected for his knowledge of the natives, much older than those settlers making their way West. People who come with dangerous experience, if you cross them they could leave you on your own to defend yourself. Some become scouts for the Army as they built new forts. These men cannot function in society, but enable it to grow outside the boundaries we already find it. Much like the gunfighter, the danger they bring with them leaves them unable to stay in one place for too long. Out in the mountains they are able to live an acceptable life-style, one with nature you could say.
I’m still trying to pin down what this film is about, maybe an escape from what was going on in America at the time. It was the beginning of a new age of directorial freedom which I admire, enjoying the work of those who are now respected names. But that would be going of on a tangent. In westerns we rarely focus on the mountain man, we see riders traveling through, hiding out or fighting Native American’s who have a clear advantage over the white men. Here is a chance to understand the mountain man, what drives him. We first meet Johnson as a soldier returning to civilian life in a 19th century Catamaran that delivers him to the outskirts of civilisation, he’s on the cusp of the unknown. Feeling his doesn’t below down with the frontiersman and settler he leaves them all behind. Now here’s where my expectations start to get dashed. Thinking that this film was going to be mostly absent of dialogue, I found it more of a 50/50 split really, which I still have to accept after what I had previously read. Johnson is trying to catch fish, all with his bare hands, grabbing the fish in the water. Not having any tools, a rare moment of comedy in this otherwise dramatic Western. Its here we meet for the first time Paints His Shirt Red (Joaquín Martínez) whose the man that Johnson wants to be, to be able to live in the mountain, surrounded by prizes from his many hunts in the mountains.
Things become more complicated when he comes across a homesteader (Allyn Ann McLerie) and her son (Josh Albee) who he later adopts and renames Caleb. A silent child who was more than likely trumatised by the death of his father. Leaving his mother mentally unstable, left to wander the mountains. A victim left alive from the Natives who are seen off-screen to be. They still victims of the cliche, or are they just defending themselves. This is quite problematic for me as the 1970’s is a decade of revisionism of the genre with films such as Little Big Man (1970), the Man Called Horse films that shows them in a fresh light. There’s still a savagery about these people, mostly the Crow who are seen by other mountain men such as Bear Claw (Will Geer) and Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch) who both admire and fear those who have lived there for centuries. Of course fighting with other Nations. It is the invasion of the white man in the mountain that is causing the conflict.
I cannot ignore the two mountain men Bear Claw and Del Gue who both help form the legend that becomes Jeremiah Johnson over the course of the film. Bear Claw is an almost God-like figure who has lived in the mountains for all his adult life. He assumes the role of the teacher to Johnson teaching all he needs to know to survive. Where as Del Gue is living the dream of the mountain man, he respects and fears the Natives. First meeting him bald, not wanting to be scalped – a common form of torture carried out by Native American’s, all part of the cliche that has been built up over the time. We next meet him with a full head of hair, and some of the best lines of the film, comparing hair to God’s greatest sculptures.
“I ain’t never seen ’em, but my common sense tells me the Andes is foothills, and the Alps is for children to climb! Keep good care of your hair! These here is God’s finest scupturings! And there ain’t no laws for the brave ones! And there ain’t no asylums for the crazy ones! And there ain’t no churches, except for this right here! And there ain’t no priests excepting the birds. By God, I are a mountain man, and I’ll live ’til an arrow or a bullet finds me. And then I’ll leave my bones on this great map of the magnificent…”
He sums up what it means to be a mountain man, a free-spirit, the closest a white-man who wants to live the life of a Native American, to be with nature. These are men who want to live in the rawness of nature, rejecting civilsation for all that is primal, a part from a gun and a knife or two. It’s not an easy life as Johnson discovers, recreating the massacre scene from The Searchers (1956) that we play out in our minds. The genre has grown up to all these harsher images. He becomes a far more dangerous Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who kills his enemy with little thought, but plenty of skill. When tired he shockingly sleeps among his victims. Its all or nothing.
I come away from the film still conflicted after the image of the film I built up in my mind has become something else – the actual film. Is is pro-Native American or not is my real question. It’s not even revisionist really. It’s another aspect of the genre that is explored in more detail, the life of the mountain man that serve little purpose in the arc of the western as whole, we hardly see them until now.
A film I watched purely on recommendation, not really a fan of Tom Cruise, however when it mentioned the U.S. civil war I decided to take a closer look at The Last Samurai (2003) to see what was really going on. And I wasn’t let down, even though it’s not technically a western it does have all the clever hallmarks of being a revisionist Western, cleverly reworked to look at the decline and fall of the Samurai warrior. A reflection of the Native American across the Pacific, complete with out all knowing white other Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) a troubled man of the army who cannot reconcile his part in the forced relocation and massacre of the Native American people. Which we see in the form of ever more graphic flash-backs which could relate to any massacre before 1876 when we find him now a drunk helping to sell the Winchester rifle. He’s not happy in his work, used as a heroic figure who used a rifle in the Civil War.
He’s offered the chance of a better life back in the uniform in a training role in Japan. By this time relations with the once isolationist country have warmed up. The country has become westernised, adopting the fashions, technology and even weapons. We have come a long way since the time of The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958) when relations are just being started between the two very different countries. One rooted in tradition and the past and another in asserting their dominance in the world (nothings changed there then). Now in the late 1800’s we are more in line with Unforgiven/Yurusarezaru mono (2013) when the Samurai is a seen as a dying breed, a reflection of the American gunfighter. The Last Samurai raises their status to another race that has become a relic, deeply rooted in the past, yet also very much part of the countries heritage. Once noble men at the disposal of the Emperor, who now wants them tamed if not eradicated. All part of the westernisation of the country.
Algren’s position is one of modern cinema with a conscience, looking back over the historical depiction of his own country reflected in another. He will train the Japanese army to fight the Samurai but not willingly, more out of a sense of duty and the money’s pretty good too. You’d think that guns would be a far better match for the sword wielding samurai who we meet in a gruesome batter that alters the course of the film dramatically. After killing of a fair few men Algren is taken back to the samurai village out of respect for his ability in battle. You can see some similarities between him and Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who is adopted/assimilated into the culture. The journey is not straight forward, it’s not a case of understanding just the culture, its a whole different mind-set. He can fight, he has the potential to be great, held back by his mind-set, not able to focus his thoughts. Whereas Dunbar is more open to what is around him, not coming with the “I’m living with savages” mindset which takes a while to wear off.
The Samurai are not depicted as savages, cinema has been more kind and even respectful to them. We hold them in awe of their skill, part of the countries culture and heritage. The genre is has strong links with the western, both drawing on each other before the release of this film. This is not Dances with Wolves (1990) in Japan, there is a sweeping feel to the movie, we are seeing the end of an era in a country through the eyes of an American which is standard for Hollywood. Which allows the audience to connect with another culture, which this time was more open to the white-man’s presence, the other was becoming a double-other (film theory talk) in order to work together. Both Algren and Dunbar are/were soldiers of the U.S. army who have come to dislike its recent campaign history. One wanting to see the West before it’s tamed and another horrified by that process. Openly criticising General Custer and his last campaign, saying he was living up to his legend. It’s as if the past has grown a deeper conscience through the guise of Japanese culture, however historically correct is another matter.
With the warrior transformation underway we see him assimilate into their culture, learning the language. Algren never gives up, determined to prove himself to these people who are almost like gods, giving their skill, honour and duty to the emperor who has turned his back on them. They are now fighting for survival, something which Algren feels the Native Americans had but were greatly outnumbered and outgunned. The same is happening here, but not without a fight all provided courtesy of cinema. And boy do we get a glorious battle even though it may never have really happened it’s all part of Hollywood and the genres attempt to rewrite history. It allows Cruise to act more than just rely on his stunts which he insists on doing. There is also little time for romance which would be very out-of place in this film. It’s thankfully held back to move the film forward. We also have Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto the leader of the Samurai and advisor to the Emperor. Watanabe has become the go-to Japanese guy for these heavier roles, bringing with him a more honest portrayal, not just someone in make-up or slightly Japanese. It’s a solid block-buster that if you go deep enough find more than just a historical action film, you get a western, always an extra treat for me.
- Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003) (tokyofox.wordpress.com)
I remember very little of my first encounter with Dances with Wolves (1990) whilst in my last year at art school, catching it. It played out very differently in my head, still that’s what memory can do to you when you cram in full of films, all those images, quotes and music running through you’re mind. It was time for a rematch, one that reminded me of what I have long missed. After watching Little Big Man (1970) this falls well into place in the genre. The main theme of a white man living with a Native American tribe, for Jack Crabbe (Dustin Hoffman) it was the synonymously violent Comanches, for Lt John Dunbar/Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner) with the Sioux who are the very opposite until pushed to go to war with the Pawnee the exotic violent tribe of the film. Wolves goes into far more detail in terms of time that a white man spends being absorbed into the culture of the usual western other. The other which is seen as a savage obstacle to be overcome in the myth of conquest. We usually spend little time with Natives, earlier films such as Broken Arrow (1950) which moved back and forth between whites and the other (Apaches).
Wolves really delves into an overlooked part in it’s countries history, guided in front and behind the camera by Costner with sensitivity and grace. On screen it’s in the form of Lt John Dunbar a possible coward during the civil war, who becomes a war hero who falls for the life of the sioux on the open plains of the untouched frontier. Theres already a sense of loss in the air, the inevitable in coming, the Sioux and other nations submitting to life on reservations. If not wiped/rubbed out in the years before. Our lead character is more open than any other in the history of the west, it’s not just a sympathy for his misunderstood neighbour, it’s a real understanding that takes the first half of the film to allow him to leave his own culture and past to start a fresh life. As if he has met someone, married and moved in, cutting off his family in the process.
The idea that the Sioux are a dangerous nation is soon brushed aside with the Pawnee who are the classic enemy of the film, killing in the opening act, suggesting that they will be back for more. Their depiction is far from reality, probably a studio compromise to still have an Indian enemy only to the Sioux however. We never truly leave the stereotype, instead just touch on it when needed for conflict.
The journey is long, long enough to be swept away into a world and culture that is usually overlooked in film (as I’ve already mentioned) allowing us to make up for all of that. Costner’s Dunbar is our gateway into that culture, an open minded figure, disillusioned by his past life in the uniform of a solider who started the film on an operating table, where he could have easily have died. Comes alive on the fort where he has been posted, empty of other soldiers he keeps account of his time in a journal that acts as narration for the audience to understand his state of mind as he leaves one life in favour of another. Theres no question of becoming a “Human Being” as in Little Big Man he simply is accepted as a Sioux after a period of acceptance, breaking down the barrier of language and culture to discover understanding, something that is usually seen as another bunch of savages who won’t conform to the western way of life that is spreading across the land.
The landscape is another character in this revisionist western that looks at the open prairie as land that has all but been claimed for the white man. The buffalo we can see are slowly being wiped out, you don’t need to see a buffalo hunter riding off, the aftermath of the skinned beasts is enough to get you. Everything about this film is to make you understand their plight, not just of the Sioux but every other nation that has surrendered to white Americans who tamed the country.
There is indeed a flip side to all the great images of gunfighters, gold rushes, cattle drives and the rail-road, there had to be a price for all that. Not just on their side, we see what would have happened to Debbie Edwards (Natalie Wood) of The Searchers (1956) if she remained with her captors, not a fate worse than death, as we discover for Stands with a Fist (Mary McDonnell) a victim of a Pawnee raid that was found by the Sioux, and raised as their own. Very much the same as Jack Crabbe who too came to not just sympathise but stand with his natural enemy as one the other who he was taught to hate and kill on sight. All that fades away when you look beyond the myths and stories that are constructed to create fear in a culture on and off film that has become part of the fabric.
Dances with Wolves stands alone able to not just entertain but make us think about our pasts, not just America but other nations who have altered the future of other nations, who as primitive as they may seem were moved without consent. I know thats a generalising of far more complex issues of history. Wolves is an attempt to re-write the myth of conquest to say this too might have happened, even a white solider may have left his own culture to join another nation that lived there hundreds of years before the 1600’s. We know what will happen, its inevitable as I have said numerous times, history tells us that. If only for a few hours we see into a now lost world brought to life with respect, grace and heart for all who want peace.
- DANCES WITH WOLVES: Film Review (www.nativeamerican.co.uk)
- Best Picture Profile: Dances With Wolves (mylastoscar.wordpress.com)
- I’M AN INDIAN TOO (A SIOUX): “DANCES WITH WOLVES” (1990) (scottross79.wordpress.com)
- Dances with Wolves (1990) (theacademywaswrong.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Best Picture Countdown #63: Dances with Wolves (1990) (flickchickcanada.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Oscar Project #63: Dances with Wolves (1990) (hashtagworld.blogspot.co.uk)
A few years ago I found Open Range (2003) whilst I was just discovering the western genre, my final year at art-school, I was eager to explore beyond the classic genre, knowing that it starred both Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner both synonymous with the genre. My first reaction to my first viewing of this film was more negative than positive, the pastoral image of the open country that greets us at the start of the film is soon lost to an adult western. And that’s thinking that Stagecoach (1939) was adult, that’s considering it was released over 60 years earlier, the genre has grown up for its time, now here’s another take on a tried and tested plot that allows for more adult cowboys to stand up and be heard. No longer is this a young man’s game.
I think also having watching a few more westerns in between, being able to return to films I first sniffed at has helped a growing maturity that has allowed me to go back to a film that I was considering selling my copy on eBay (glad I didn’t by the way). Also reading more about the genre has opened my mind to what it’s all about, the myth of conquest originally, the birth of a new nation filled with hopes, dreams and all the danger that came with it.
Returning to the pastoral location of the west we find four men, two running the cattle outfit and two hired hands, grazing their cattle on land that is the property of cattle baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) who practically owns the law and the town, trying to run these men off his land. So far it’s nothing new really, yet its the older men pushing each other around, each set in their ways, It’s only when the hired hands Mose and Button (Abraham Benrubi are caught in the middle, making the quarrel personal, its time to sort things out once and for all.
The remaining men ride back into town, stopping at the doctor’s house, home also to Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) who nurses the young Button. Leaving the two men to in town, revenge and justice is now on their minds. We have to wait the rest of the film for the final showdown which is indeed worth the wait, filled with personal exploration of both Boss Spearman (Duvall) and Charley Waite (Costner) more-so Waite a former civil war solider suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder, a condition that was not to be first diagnosed until well into the next century, dealt in 1800’s America with understanding from a gravelly older partner, something that would more likely have been met with bottling up your emotions and carrying on. Becoming more dangerous with a few guns strapped to his belt.
Its Spearman and Sue’s combined input that allows Charley to start to put to rest his demons before entering into a showdown I’ve not seen the likes of since Pale Rider (1985) and Tombstone (1993) within a more accurate frontier town that sees the townspeople rise up and support the classic stranger see that all men are treated with respect. A long yet not drawn out gun battle, feeling the right length for an all out gunfight. A classic delivery that last far longer than your average 5 minutes before gaining the towns respect.
Open Range is far more than I thought it was, a slow western that is too complex, when it needs to be complex to support a maturer cast who we can see need more than a love interest and wrong doing to see this film through. There is a love of the genre that is woven into the film, from the design of the town, to the cinematography of the landscape. Lead actors who have grown up in the genre, Duvall having been part of the dying classic to its present form. Whilst Costner has breathed new life and energy into a genre that has been tired at time.
- O: Open Range (2003) (alphabeticalfilm.wordpress.com)
- Droid Defines the Decades Best Movies #13 Open Range (2003) (moonwolves.wordpress.com)
I’m becoming more aware of the post recession films that react to the financial crisis of 2008, the end of the last boom and bust, which saw huge corporations lose millions whilst the average man on the streets life just got harder as the living costs started to increase and jobs became a nightmare to find. I was drawn more than anything to The Company Men by the top-billing that was shared by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee-Jones and Kevin Costner.
What I found at first was a hard-nosed shipping company/corporation making another round of redundancies, this time affecting one of their best sales executives Bobby Walker (Affleck) who is a cocky salesmen who believes he will bounce back soon with a job that matches his skills and previously salary. Not what the audience knows to be true, having experienced the hard reality of the recession. Whilst we follow to more men at the company a divisional president Gene McClary (Lee-Jones) and Phil Woodward (Cooper) both long-time employees giving thirty years of their lives to this company that has had to take tough decisions to survive, restructuring and downsizing. The two remaining don’t like to see what is happening, seeing good hard-working people being made redundant. All with the help of human resources manager Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) whose seen as a hard-nosed b**** who doesn’t really care who goes.
We follow these three men as they each come to terms with the redundancies. We more easily empathise with Bobby who even with the help of his old employer looks for new employment, understanding the mounting rejection from prospective employers, who believe they are right for the job before having their hopes dashed after all the hollow promises that are made. I personally can understand the struggle to find a job, the pressure and competition for each position. It became disheartening at time with all the rejection that comes your way. More so for Bobby who knows he has to provide for his family who are relying on one source of income, it’s not enough to support the house which they may have to give up. He wants to portray the image of success which he has been used to for some time. An image that he believes will help in securing a new job. He needs to come down to earth.
Whilst for those still at the company things are looking grim as more tough decisions are being made, the face of the once simple shipping construction company becomes far more than it’s beginning. Especially for Gene (Lee Jones) who know longer knows his best and oldest friend Conal (Tom Kemp) who has risen to the top with all the trappings that to the average person are luxuries. Gene who lives a similar life has become jaded to it all and his wife who lives a luxury life. He wants nothing of it, wanting something far simpler.
Whilst for Phil (Cooper) along with Gene are later made redundant. For Phil a man nearing his sixties, his chances of being employed are slim as he soon finds out. Reality is hard to deal with, spiralling into a depression that reflects many who have been victims of the recession.
The Company Men shows the light at the end of the tunnel, when your job and life come crashing down, it;’s how you deal with it that. Falling to the lows that even those in corporations feel, something the majority of the population cannot easily relate to. Seeing the bankers of the world to be the cause of our financial trouble. They are like us, if we like it or not.It has a limited reach to the audience showing how redundancy can affect the average guy, to the executive. It’s only with Bobby’s brother-in-law Jack Dolan (Costner) a builder doing his best to survive in a bleak housing climate. He’s the really the only one we can truly relate to, a hard-working man, who has not had the great success and lifestyle of others. We see others who are struggling and accept anything they are given, something that comes harder to the likes of Bobby.
I don’t think films such as this and Margin Call (2011) will have a massive audience, they focus on the wrong people for a mass audience appeal and empathy. They do try to humanize those who suffer as a result of the crisis that like it or not also are effected. The Company Men (2010) does go some way to breaching that social gap, we all have bills to pay, payments to meet, lifestyles we want to maintain. So does it matter where on the food chain in the workplace you are when and if you do fall?
A tour-de-force of late 80’s cinema, bringing a classic tale a justice to the screen with impeccable performances all round from Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and the dangerous Robert De Niro as the king of prohibition Chicago Al Capone.
The Untouchables (1987) is a thrilling story from start to finish. With an authentic Italian soundtrack provided by the ever original Ennio Morricone, who places in the 30s with a hint of the Italian gangster culture that has been cultivated by Hollywood cinema. Brought to life more so with the near type-casting of De-Niro who delivers a powerful performance as Al Capone. A role that could only be filled by himself. A role only the likes of Edward G. Robinson could fill if he lived so long to tell this tale.
A tale of the good American Elliot Ness rising up to take on organised crime that had come to consume the city of Chicago, much like the need for alcohol on the streets again. Only creating more crime in the wake of such a ridiculous law that proved near-impossible to enforce. Reaching into every pore of the law enforcers. Yet not the likes of Jim Malone (Sean Connery) an Irish beat cop who wanted to do good by his uniform and the law that he chose to uphold.
Meeting along the way an eager young police cadet (Andy Garcia) who himself could have slid through the cracks to the underworld crimes influences. And lastly Agent Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) who finds a glimmer of hope for this group of men known as The Untouchables, as they fight the bootleggers, playing at their own game and even going further at times to get what they want. The law is a different breed in Chicago, that needs to be met with more violence to get the attention of the gangs that have come to be the law behind the scenes.
Visual a stunning film, that places you in the era without a doubt, paying respect to the lineage of cinema, most notably in the form of the book-keeper gun scene in the station, re-staging with a hint of melodrama the pram scene from the silent classic Battleship Potemkin (1925). The pallet of stones and pastels on-screen remind you of 1930’s cinema, the gangster films, how black and white films may have been if we were not hidden behind the camera.
Director Brian De Palma grounds ness in a family life, unlike the other members of the group who have no real ties, making them easier targets for Al Capone’s men, we feel their loss, but feel nothing beyond that for any family, as only one family is being targeted throughout the film. There was sadly no real threat of danger to Ness’s family who are quickly taken away to a safe location, maybe this allowed for the film to progress. And I never saw a 9 month bump when we next see Patricia Clarkson on-screen. I’m guessing all the padding was with De Niro’s costume, which I easily forgive, allowing for a better performance and on-screen presence. He is able to play the larger than life roles, taken on previously the younger Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II (1974).
Thankfully law prevails as they bring Capone to justice, even at the expense of a fresh jury to ensure justice for all involved, leaving the audience in no doubt that the facts however loosely they are left in tact, it’s the tax-dodging that finally catches up with him.