The retelling of the last years of the legendary James-Younger Gang, who made a name for themselves as the most feared bank-robbers of the 19th century.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“First getting shot, then getting married. Bad habits.”
The Long Riders was directed by Walter Hill, the man behind cult classics like The Driver (1978) and The Warriors (1979). Like those pictures, this fact-based western is impeccably crafted and very stylish. However, Hill’s bold stylistic choices aren’t just a display of technical bravado, but a way to convey feelings and ideas.
The Long Riders gained notoriety by casting real-life siblings to play the real-life outlaw brothers. James and Stacy Keach play the James brothers. David, Keith, and Robert Carradine play the Younger brothers. Dennis and Randy Quaid play the Miller brothers. Finally, Christopher and Nicholas Guest play the Ford brothers.
It’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime cast. But this isn’t just a good-looking western with a cool gimmick, The Long Riders is a fascinating production, at least in terms of style and mood. Director Hill does a remarkably good job playing with audience expectations by seamlessly blending elements of both traditional and revisionist westerns — it’s the sort of experimental motion picture that can’t be put neatly in a category.
What is more, Hill is fully committed to realism while rendering a simultaneous subversion of it. The use of authentic locations and the folksy score (by renowned guitarist Ry Cooder) give a documentary-like flavor to the movie. On the other hand, the action set-pieces, most of them shot in slow motion, have an operatic quality to them.
The Long Riders swings back and forth between realism and Hollywood artifice with amazing ease. It really shouldn’t work, but it does. And for a movie that’s full of sound and fury, it features plenty of intimate human drama. You get to know all the characters and their motivations. I don’t know exactly how they manged to do it, but I sure you that each character comes across as a complex, three-dimensional individual.
It does help that each character was cast perfectly. David Carradine’s Cole Younger was probably my favorite. I also enjoyed Pamela Reed’s (The Clan of the Cave Bear) performance as the infamous grande dame of the Wild West, Belle Starr. The cast also includes James Whitmore Jr. (The Boys in Company C) as the man pursuing the outlaws, and Harry Carey Jr. (The Searchers) as a feisty old Confederate soldier. Lin Shaye (of Insidious franchise fame) has a tiny part as a prostitute.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Truth be told, not everyone agrees about the film’s merits. The Long Riders is often accused of being a case of “style over substance.” What the film’s detractors are missing is that, in this case, the “style IS the substance.” I personally think it is one of the best ’80s westerns (I know, there isn’t much competition). At the very least, it should be seen as a gutsy attempt to move away from genre rules. Color, 99 minutes, Rated R.