For some reason, for someone who’s not much of a Western fan, I’ve seen a fair few examples of the genre lately and this one is a fine illustration of how – when done well – it’s possible to transcend all those tired old stereotypes. This is a very fine film indeed.
Some Western afficionados might complain about the relatively low level of gunfire/body count or even the attempt towards respectful treatment of the Native Americans but, for me, these were all plus points.
At heart, this is a superlative buddy movie in the tradition of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid – complete with full-on wise-cracking, whip-smart dialogue. The ever-impressive Viggo Mortensen plays off Ed Harris perfectly and Jeremy Irons does a pretty convincing hard-ass turn. The script is witty, dry and intelligent (there are some very quotable moments) and takes an unsentimental look at the fine line between “good guys” and “bad guys” in the relatively lawless West.
The film tells of Mortensen’s unstoppable friendship with Harris until it meets the immovable object of Renee Zellwegger’s fickle Allie. Essentially, this thread of the story boils down to a classic eternal triangle, with all that implies for two being company and three a crowd. Without giving anything away, there’s a certain tender nobility in the denouement that speaks right to the essence of friendship.