Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Long Riders (1980)

Walter Hill once said 'Every film I've done has been a Western'.  I opened with that quote the last time I reviewed one of his movies, and I use it again now for the rather self-evident reason that this film is a literal western.  Not just that, but it is an account of the James-Younger gang: probably one of the most frequently-filmed historical western stories there are.

Which is not to say that this is a run-of-the-mill western.  Hill's a bit more of an idiosyncratic film-maker than that.  He eschews the normal Monument Valley-esque visuals for, well:

Here's the film's opening title

Jesse James and his compatriots conducted most of their banditry in Missouri, and while Hill didn't actually film there, he obviously consciously chose to film in locations that would reflect the real climate and terrain of that part of the country.  This is a land of farms, not ranches; of forests, not deserts.

This film was a pet project of James and Stacy Keach, who played the James brothers (Jesse and Frank respectively).  Perhaps inspired by this, Hill chose to cast all the sibling groups in the gang with real life brothers.

Story-wise, I don't think there is much here to surprise you if you are at all familiar with the James-Younger gang's exploits.  Former Confederate soldiers turned bandits, they are pursued by the authorities but supported by the people of the region, many of whom resent the federal government as deeply as do the gang.  And like many Jesse James films, I do think it is guilty of idealising the gang to a significant degree.

But honestly I don't think that historical accuracy or narrative innovation were ever intended to be the attractions of the film.  Its appeal lies solidly in the visceral and impactful action sequences, which Hill handles with his usual skill.

Check it out if you want to see how the man who always makes a western handles actually making a western.

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