Most evenings, wherever we are, my husband and I watch a movie. We try to agree on what and it's not unusual for it to be something we have seen. We tend to like the same sort of films which means no horror, extreme violence, or that leaves us feeling depressed when they are over.
We have experimented with indie westerns for our nightly film-- which can be laughably bad. One, won't name names, was so bad that it would have been better with the sound off-- better because it did have a beautiful cast of young heroes. Totally a pleasure to watch but dialogue and acting... ack! Could a better director have saved the story-- maybe or maybe not.
The two I want to discuss here had varying levels of apparent money behind their making. They were both, however, definitely indie movies, never meant for movie theaters and only for DVD sales or rentals. They were both good in different ways. Of course, when I say that, it is a given that I mean for those who like westerns. If you don't, you might disagree totally. Western lovers though will accept a lot of minor glitches in the plot if it stays true to the genre. And these did in spades.
The other aspect the two had in common was their star. Both movies starred country music singers who had risen to the top of those ranks and are mature men now probably looking for new challenges.
They are middle aged but still tough enough looking to carry off the western hero, the kind of guy who is tough, capable, and for me-- a pleasure to look at. Give me a guy who has some experience on his face. Surprisingly they both gave good acting performances. Could they do Macbeth? Maybe not (likely would not want to), but a western is about good versus evil. It is about those who will stand up when others stand down. It is about the need for right to triumph. Much as a romance, they will have a happy ending-- which may or may not involve a woman.
Ambush at Dark Canyon starred Kix Brooks, who is famous in CW circles for being part of Brooks and Dunn who had hit after hit until they got to a certain age and felt they were repeating themselves and maybe wanted to go different directions. Brooks had a goal to act in a western which I felt he did quite well in this story of a US Marshal who made a catastrophic error in judgment which cost him his freedom.
The story does not end there, but I cannot reveal more of what happens without wrecking the story. Suffice to say there was plenty of action, two good bromances, and a setting in Southern Arizona where they used Yuma Prison for some of the scenes. I have been there which added to my enjoyment as Yuma Prison is one of those places you don't forget-- a literal hellhole for any one unfortunate enough to end up there.
The second film had me in some doubt when I purchased it. It was a retelling of The Virginian. Now that film has been made a lot of times usually with the same plot and beloved by me whether it's perfectly made or not. (The honeymoon at the end of the book, which evidently Owen Wister only added at Teddy Roosevelt's request -- gotta have a happy ending which Wister hadn't originally intended to involve love-- that honeymoon in the Big Horns is my idea of the best a man could give a woman. Total perfection and no sex in the story. It didn't need it.)
Okay, I got distracted. Back to the newest version. It starred Trace Adkins, who is another of my favorites in music-- and to look at. Adkins though seemed an unlikely choice for the Virginian; but when you get into this movie, it no longer is the case. He was perfectly cast. This Virginian is a middle-aged guy, who has lived a hard life and is trying to live by the Code. He's tough, respected and living in a time where life can end very abruptly-- something he knows all too well.
The plot deviates a lot from the book while keeping some key elements. I can't say too much about it, or I'd ruin someone else's pleasure as the story unfolds, but the jacket gives away one point and I think blows it on another.
This Judge Henry is not a good guy. Ron Perlman knows how to play a complex character like this to perfection. To me, the rethinking of the Judge's character suits our understanding of how power can corrupt. By reworking his character, the essence of the story changed from the original, but in a way that stayed true to westerns and added a view of life today.
Whoever wrote the book's jacket had a tough job. I know how hard it is to write blurbs that tell enough without too much. I just felt that the friendship between the city man and the western guy changed them both (yes another good bromance). These two men evolved with the needs of the situation. It wasn't one impacting the other but both of them. And the heroine, Molly West, well she was terrific for today's audiences.
Both of these films were good, stayed true to the heart of the western, and were eye candy enough for anybody who isn't a kid themselves ;). Certainly The Virginian was done on a budget as it didn't have a big cast-- but it put its money where it was most important.
It was the perfect time to watch these films as my newest novella comes out February 1 and while it's not exactly a western, it has one cowboy and the other a ranch owner for heroes... as well as... okay I won't go further but there will be more on it this week (while I am on the road but they are prewritten).