Friday, September 23, 2011

The Far Country. B+

My enthusiasm for James Stewart as a Western hero is not on the same level as it is for Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. Picturing Wayne or Eastwood in Western garb is perfectly natural, as if they wore these clothes in every day life. But with Stewart it looks more like a costume. He's too familiar to us in other roles that when we picture him he's often in a suit and tie. In film Stewart was the complicated American citizen, not a Western hero. Still, he's obviously at home in the Western, as evidenced in The Far Country, a juicy little frontier tale from Anthony Mann. Mann of course was Stewart's main collaborator with the Western, and after the very normal Winchester 73, I was happily surprised at just how far The Far Country strays from normalcy. Stewart is an anti-hero, a cattleman with as few scruples as Eastwood in his Westerns. When we learn that Stewart has killed some men, we expect, based on the characters he tends to play, an explanation to justify his actions. But there aren't any, really. He's just a rugged man of the west, who has no qualms about taking the life of another. So in a way, The Far Country is out to destroy the myth of the wild West and show it as something harsher and more realistic. While this is the main strength of Mann's film, it's also a good movie because it tells a story that doesn't just use recycled elements from previous Westerns. It avoids the genre's overused vendetta theme and settles for a plot we can actually fathom occurring in real life. The movie is in color, yet perhaps it would have been better served in black and white. There's a slight artificial look to it, maybe caused by the faded images and lack of texture. It's not a film pleasing or striking to the eye. But for one of the old traditional Westerns, it's actually pretty new age, perhaps more for the McCabe and Mrs. Miller group than the Red River group.

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