Movie Review by Dr Kuma

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Val Kilmer

Director: Ron Howard

The western is one of the great American art forms which has been sadly neglected over the past decade, replaced by the modern American classic genre, vapid, ill conceived ‘blockbusters’, which, in turn, have been replaced by others based on that other great American institute: the fairground ride. Let’s wait for the next big US genre – ‘coke & fries the movie’. We’ve already had mum’s apple pie, but somebody stuck more than a thumb in that one and it didn’t have much filling.

So who’s hands has it been left in to try and resurrect this great American Institution. Clint Eastwood? No. Kevin Costner? No. Rosemary, the telephone operator? No, it’s been left in the hands of Ron Howard, who brought us the great American classics SPLASH and PARENTHOOD. Hang on. I’m I being harsh? Well, yes. Let’s start again.

The resurrection of the American institution that is the western has been left in the capable and talented hands of Ron Howard, who may have already failed miserably with the turkey shoot that was FAR AND AWAY (by far and away the funniest unintentional western ever) but the man who brought us the wonderful A BEAUTIFUL MIND and must possess one of the most varied filmographies in recent Hollywood history. This is one of the high water marks, not only in his varied portfolio, not only in the western genre, but also in recent American movies. It’s simply excellent.

The story follows a long-estranged father and daughter who reunite to rescue her child who has been kidnapped by a dangerous killer and his band of outlaws, but there’s more to this Indian than meets the eye, he is also a powerful shaman, making this epic the first supernatural western since Eastwood’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and PALE RIDER.

The casting of this film is excellent on every level, but Blanchett and Jones are simply superb and the release date is the only reason why this film did not feature in the recent BAFTA awards. Both are Oscar worthy performances. This really is the best western since THE UNFORGIVEN (and you will be if you don’t go and see this on the big screen). Howard takes a page from the John Ford “how to make a great western” book by using the landscape as a character itself. A character so important that it can turn from hero to villain in the time it takes to reload a Winchester rifle. There have been some great performances in westerns over the years, from John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS (which this movie is a variation of and the movie it most blatantly pays homage too), Henry Fonda in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Eastwood in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES etc, but rarely has a female lead excelled in the genre the way Kate Blanchett does. Tommy Lee Jones can stand amongst the greats with this one too, a modern day A MAN CALLED HORSE.

The only reason why this doesn’t get top marks is because of a scene where Blanchett demands just a little too much. She’s a strong woman, but pushes the credibility (and common sense the character seems to possess) of her role amongst the cowboys and savages a little too far. It stands out only because the rest of the movie is so well observed. It’s also refreshing to see all nationalities are tarred with the same brush – no one, literally, comes out of this looking good, but it does show that the maternal instinct, one never too common in the man’s world of the western, is one of human kinds strongest instincts and it’s all the better for it.

Dr Kuma’s verdict: Wanted – a reward of some sort for a modern western classic.

5 out of 6 stars