Sometimes it’s nice to just clear the Movie Monday palate with a film that you know is going to be pretty good. Directed by Walter Hill, soundtrack by Ry Cooder, got some decent actors in it … this is probably not going to be a total shitshow. It’s based on the story of the James-Younger gang, and Hill did a little bit of stunt casting by casting actors who were brothers in the lead roles: James and Stacy Keach play the James brothers, three Carradines play the Younger brothers, the Quaids play Ed and Clell Miller and Nicholas and Christopher Guest play Bob and Charlie Ford, or possibly the other way around.
Early impressions: it’s very 70s-y in its easy pace, which is not what you’d normally say about a movie that starts with a gunfight and is only an hour and 40 minutes long. But seriously, there’s a hell of a lot of just country music and dancing in the first half-hour of the film. Also, David Carradine says “I’ll be go to hell,” which is an amazing expression.
Some of the bits that seem like they should be exaggerated — like Pinkerton detectives bombing the James residence while the brothers weren’t even home and killing a young boy — turn out to be historical. In fact, it’s toned down; in real life, the kid was even younger and the James’ mum lost an arm. But the extended pursuit by the Pinkertons is, I think, fictitious, presumably because outlaws on the run from the Man are more fun and sympathetic than redneck shitheads terrorising the innocent.
There are some occasional odd moments, such as the one where James Remar turns up in a leather vest (I guess this is a Walter Hill movie?) and has a knife-fight with David Carradine. I have to say that Kung Fu or no, David Carradine does not look like a man that could take Young James Remar in a fight. He looks like he’s in pretty good shape.
Anyhow, this film shares a trait with Tombstone, in that it struggles with the undramatic structure of, y’know, real life. The obvious place to set the climax of your Jesse James movie is with the Northfield raid, a foray into Minnesota that basically saw the gang get wiped out in a huge gun battle with locals. The battle is portrayed as a little more even than it was in reality; the real event was a whuppin’ celebrated with an annual fair in Northfield. Do not antagonise peace-loving Midwesterners, nor mistake their politeness for a lack of toughness.
Anyway, the last act after Northfield leads up to the killing of Jesse, but it’s so short that the whole thing feels a little out of place. Still, it’s a good movie, and reeeeeasonably historical, although it tends to heroise the characters a bit and does the usual exaggeration and condensing you get in films like this. On UK Netflix and worth a watch.