Review for The Long Riders
The Long Riders
Director: Walter Hill
Walter Hill is known as a man's man among directors. With varying degrees of success, his films largely revolve around blokes getting dirty and doing whatever is necessary in need of their cause. Movies such as Trespass (1992), Last Man Standing (1996), and Southern Comfort (1981) have delved into desperate situations involving gritty, stubborn anti-heroes and manly misfits. His work on seminal picture, The Warriors (1979) remains a cinematic highlight of the latter half of the 20th century, whilst Hill also struck box office gold with the Eddie Murphy vehicle, 48 Hours in 1982, and 1988's Red Heat, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's a director who's had numerous hits, but in fairness, it's the other material that has proven to be much more interesting. While films such as Red Heat are vacant, heavy-handed and over-violent buddy flicks, the likes of 1982's Streets of Fire have stood the test of time, and enjoyed reputation's enhanced by time. Hill's apparently views many of his films through a western genre lens- a concept that upon seeing his best work is certainly hard to argue with.
Prior to much of his success, but following the artistic thunderbolt that was Warriors, and the staggering Driver (1978), Hill was a pretty hot commodity. Such was his standing, that he was able to create something rousing and unique, in the form of The Long Riders, and do so in grandstanding fashion.
Hill's 1980 dose of salty western nostalgia is a film that arrived somewhat out of time- almost a decade removed from Sam Peckinpah's stranglehold of the genre. It preempted more recent post-Modernism as found in 1992's Unforgiven, but dabbled in some of the same details unearthed by Andrew Dominick for The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward, Robert Ford. The plot follows the infamous James-Younger gang in the years after the Civil War. James' band of jaded outlaws terrorise Midwest USA, committing a series of robberies, notably on railroads and banks,attracting the attention of equally flawed and morally dubious Law-men, who ride in from the Pinkerton agency. It's familiar, but rousing stuff.
The big novelty surrounding The Long Riders however, is that it tells the story of the Jesse James Gang, and the various family members utilsing real-life brothers. Hence, Hill's cast is a hugely impressive ensemble of those with genuine acting chops in their blood.
James Keach takes the lead role of Jesse James, with his brother Stacey as James' sibling.
The Carradine family though, will be the most familiar to most observers, here represented by David, Keith, and Robert. Dennis and Randy Quaid are also present, the former in only a few scenes, while Christopher & Nicholas Guest make a brief but significant impression.
The cast are uniformly terrific. Gimmick aside, Hill extracts outstanding performances, perhaps spurred (Ahem!) on by the natural chemistry and tension. The consequence is that he really pushed them to the limits, and helped draw deep and natural turns from all involved. This reviewer was a little dubious about the presence of Randy Quaid, but he certainly delivers a lighter side to proceedings with aplomb. As always, Keith and David Carradine are standouts, commanding your attention with their scintillating screen presence. An early scene in which Keith witnesses the death of an innocent member of the extended family, and is forced to take action; is served magnificently by some of the most on-the-nose facials one could hope for. David meanwhile, exudes menace, which explodes into violence at one point during a protracted, uncomfortable
The Long Riders also appears to offer no discernible moral judgment on the often despicable nature of the characters. It's easy to sympathize with both the bravado of the outlaws, and also their loyalty to one another and their allies. The indignance generated from their helpers and local supporters when they're "wronged", is palpable, and adds to the notion of James being a sort of Robin Hood figure.
Much has been said before about climatic scene, a staggering shoot out during a raid on a Northfield, Minnesota bank. This savage, breathtaking piece of cinema indulges in all of Hill's trademark techniques. The contrast between the stillness of death, and brutality of the action, the balletic slow-mo emerging from the dusty, anything but elegant setting.
It's jaw dropping stuff, and so captivating that it actually overshadows everything before it Hill's movie is not just about the flowing claret though, the bullet-holes and the stubble. It's also a lovely piece to stare at, boasting very pleasing cinematography by Ric Wait, and is certainly one of the most artistically accomplished efforts of the era.
Ry Cooder's evocative soundtrack should not go without mention either. His arid, masculine notes generate an authenticity that leaves one bamboozled as to how this could be a picture from the beginning of the 1980's.
The film itself holds up today as a wonderfully reflective, thoughtful western, with several terrifically tense moments. Admittedly, some younger viewers may long for a greater focus on realistic violence, and protracted shoot outs, but The Long Riders just isn't that sort of work. Here, the violence is almost balletic, it compliments the interactions between the main characters, and explodes in tension-filled moments. Hill of course, cannot escape the Peckinpah comparisons. It's easily just as good- and deserves to be seen and judged on its own merits.
-A sixty-minute "Making of" documentary, is an absolute gem. Contributions from Hill, James Keach, and Robert Carradine add enormously to this informative piece. It's absolutely stuffed to the brink with info
-Anatomy of a Scene, is a shorter [15mins] feature, looking specifically at the climatic scene, with snippets from the same contributors.
-Slow Motion, is a third feature, during which Walter Hill discusses the comparisons between himself, and Sam Peckinpah. Although perhaps not warranting a separate piece [it probably could have been included in the "making of"}, it's great to have Hill speaking up about this subject.
Second Sight have put together a great package here. Fans of the director will be keen to know that this is likely the best the film has ever looked as a home release. The subdued, autumnal colour palette is a genuine delight, with greens bursting through the sumptuous scenary. Those who were familiar with previous releases and bemoaned any issues with night-photography will also be thrilled to find that problem rectified here. The 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is also a nicely crisp affair which successfully juggles the masterful score, with the often understated dialogue. Given the careful treatment the film has been given with this release, it's only fitting then that the extras combine to make this a very rewarding package.
Long Riders isn't a film that will be for everyone, and perhaps does require a degree of enthusiasm for both the genre, and for the more modern, minimal dialogue takes on it. But those who put a little of attention into it, will find that similarly to much of Walter Hill's output, it's a tremendous treat that has much to offer beyond what's on the surface.