Saturday, 17 July 2010

No.165 : Wild Bill

You know, it’s lucky they make a wild west film every five minutes or we’d be in real danger of forgetting these guys, who in reality were a bunch of hard drinking’ hard shaggin’ murdering cow pokes. But it’s as near as America has to a history so let’s have a look at the 42nd re-invention of Wild Bill Hickok.

This film has a really excellent cast with recognisable names all down the credits. For me, that sounds a warning as the film is more likely to be stars raiding the dressing up box than anything even close to entertainment. I know that sounds like starting with a conclusion but that’s only because the film started it.

We open in black and white with Wild Bill’s funeral. We get a slightly reverential commentary from John Hurt as the Englishman abroad, a role later filled and bettered by Saul Rubinek in ‘Unforgiven’. Hurt then goes back into colour to paint a picture of the man and the legend.

We meet Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill enjoying a few captioned ‘greatest hits’ as he shoots up the old west while playing cards, drinking whisky and smoking opium. We then catch up with in his present day as he starts losing his sight and coming to the attention of various young guns keen to make their name by shooting the great man.

Bill settles in Deadwood and is soon pumping Calamity Jane and avoiding the attentions of his bastard son who has hooked up with Kelly Bundy, who looks quite fetching in her bustier. The narrative, as it is, is really more ‘scenes from a life’ rather than a decent story, and while that’s true of most bio-pics, this one has been so well mined before that there’s not a lot to surprise or thrill.

The Old West as shown here is a bit too clean, with the gun fighters, such as the wheel chair bound Bruce Dern, a bit to noble to be real. I’d imagine that the ‘Deadwood’ TV series with its bushwhackers and road agents to be a lot more realistic than these tales of people being called out for a duel. They also have the cleanest looking whores you’ll ever see.

I thought Jeff Bridges did his usual stand up job, but I wasn’t really convinced that he was a complicated nineteenth century gunslinger. It wasn’t helped by some ill-advised opening sequences where he kill a slew of men for touching his hat, which made the film seem like a comedy from the start.

The production values are pretty high with a recognisable cast of some standing and the usual old west sets and stick on moustaches. I just felt the whole film had a ‘TV Movie’ aesthetic with the wobbly camera and flashbacks to black and white serving only to highlight the limited scope of the whole affair.

With a life so well documented getting the bio-pic focus you really have to bring something new to the party and when all you come up with the ‘greatest hits’ it’s no surprise that this western is largely forgotten. It’s not particularly bad but nothing special and with an unsympathetic character at the forefront you’ll quickly wonder why you bothered.

Best Bit : Bill shares his bath water
‘W’ Rating 14/23