Friday, July 09, 2010

THE LONG RIDERS (1980) - Walter Hill

The Long Riders is too damned short. It sets out to tell the tale of Frank and Jesse James (James and Stacy Keach) but also those of the Younger Brothers (David, Keith and Robert Carradine) and the Millers too (Dennis and Randy Quaid). It feels like it should have been a 3-hour Heat style prairie crime saga rather than a 99 minute best-of Hollywood B-List brothers compilation.

Don't get me wrong. What's here is mostly fantastic. David Carradine and Pamela Reed's been-there-done-that flophouse flirtation. James Remar as a knife-wielding Indian. The stunt-heavy, blood-spurting climactic Northfield Minnesota bank raid. The perfectly homegrown Ry Cooder score. And, yes, getting all these brothers to agree to appear in the same movie is a casting coup and gives resonance to the onscreen disagreements and feuds.

But true-to-life casting is no shortcut to character. The problem is that there isn't just one or two of them to focus on like, say, The Assassination of Jesse James (a 2.5 hour flick) which mainly focused on the James-Ford relationship and therefore could go a little deeper. Instead, Hill and screenwriters take the wide view, dipping in and out of all the brothers' lives and relationships for brief periods but not long enough for us to care all that much about most of them. He does give a slight deference to the Younger clan who come out looking better than the James'. Granted, the characters here are legendary, and an argument could be made that most everyone already knows the details of these guys' lives from childhood storybooks and a thousand other westerns. But I'm of the opinion that a movie needs to stand on its own like a solid, well-made chair. This one, though enjoyable, seems to be missing a leg.

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