From where I sit, and that’s on a chair, Westerns are the best film genre we got going. I may be the only person on Earth who has sat through Heavens Gate, Jonah Hex, Young Guns and Paint Your Wagon, that’s how much I like Westerns.
I’ve seen most of the good ones too, from The Wild Bunch to Winchester ’73 to both True Grits to Johnny Guitar to Once Upon a Time in the West to The Ox-Bow Incident to Ravenous to both 3:10 to Yumas. Why do I like them so much? Same reason everyone else does, I’d bet. Grand themes (i.e. Good vs. Evil), often, grand vistas (i.e. Monument Valley), usually, grandly bullet-riddled bodies (i.e. whomever takes on Clint in Josey Wales), almost always. Certainly, there’s something great about a film or a story that takes place in an environment of lawlessness or near-lawlessness, as Westerns do. It gives us more of a sense of unpredictability, a fear that anything can happen, to anyone. It’s similar to film noir in that way, my other favorite genre. In Westerns, men are left to their own devices, and that means, well, watch out.
Which leads us to a more current Western, and a good one, Blackthorn. It furthers the tale of Butch Cassidy, famed outlaw, long thought dead by ambush. Turns out he has actually survived and since laid low in Bolivia with a new name and a new life. Now a much older man, Cassidy, played by Sam Shepard, longs to return home to the States to see a nephew and to make some sort of connection before his age catches up with him. It is on this mission he embarks, making his farewells to his adopted homeland. It doesn’t go as planned.
As Butch/Blackthorn makes his journey, Spanish director Mateo Gil shows us a Bolivia that I’ve never seen. Dramatic locales, stark and beautiful, with plenty of shots that their tourist board should jump all over. Once again, the scenic brilliance of a Western is there to amaze audiences. Butch hooks up with another traveler and the story veers off in unexpected, but believable, directions. Grand themes? We got Old vs. Young, Civilization vs. The Wild. Grand vistas? We got the salt flats and the mountains. Grandly bullet-ridden bodies? We got….
Not telling you that. What I will tell you is see Blackthorn. See it ‘cause Shepard nails it as the tired, aged, ready-to-go home Butch. See it and see a new, undiscovered Bolivia. See it and see Stephen Rea’s acting chops on full display as the man who may know who this “Blackthorn” really is. See it because there is absolutely no CGI. See it for the shootouts. See it because it’s a Western.
Best. Film. Genre. EVER.