Prohibition Era. The Tex-Mex border in a town called Jericho, occupied by
an Italian gang and an Irish gang of bootleggers just far enough from Chicago
or Brooklyn to call this a Western. A great western, "The Long Riders"
meets "Miller's Crossing."
Sheriff Bruce Dern ain't doing too good a job keeping the peace. Bruce Willis
is an hombre with no name - until the gang insists. He gives himself the
name of John Smith, as good a handle as any for a guy who's about to bring
down Jericho and the hell that's in it. This is all done to a sensational
score by Ry Cooder that makes this American in the same way that Ennio Moricone's
scores made Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns so definitively European.
There is a moment when the camera sweeps the emptiness of the Southwest
and you sit back and say, "Thank you, God, for Arthur Hill's passion
for the Western." You don't need to know - but you might want to -
that this Walter Hill opus is inspired by the famous Japanese director Akira
Kurosawa's "Yojimbo," which is about an itinerant samurai in a
19th century Japanese village devastated by gang warfare. From Japan to
Texas ought to be a long way but it's a side-wise move for the talents of
Hill, who has an essentially frontier vision. Every movie he's ever made,
from the comedy "48 Hours" to the teen fantasy "Streets of
Fire", is essentially a Western. The man could probably turn "NYPD
Blue" into a Western!
What's important is how Hill renews the genre every time, from the existential
Wild Bill Hickock to "Southern Comfort," which feels like a country
ballad. What's new here is the energy of Bruce Willis, who has maybe never
been so convincing as a man who can only trust a pistol - and we're not
talking blonde bombshells. (I think Bruce likes gun-slinging). As a basically
bad guy so disgusted by Jericho that he's got to do good, he moves through
the movie like a creeping volcanic flood, using one bullet on the big thugs
he shoots and 27 on the little thugs. And he keeps us itching for the final
mano-a-mano that you know he's going to have with Christopher Walken.
Walken is terrific with a scar ripping his "continental" smoothie
quality, but his voice sounds like Edith Piaf. Every time he comes on screen,
he and Willis turn up the juice and their scenes together really cook. Walken
gets the best line in the movie: "Please. I don't want to die in Texas."
But to die in Texas is to be a Western hero. And you gotta go to Texas to
be a gunslinging hero. So what're ya gonna do? Load up and shoot your way
to the end. Movie body-count: 101 evil hombres who are, as John Smith says,
"better off dead."
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