Friday, September 4, 2009

Pale Rider (1985)

By Eric Jessen 9/3/09

In Pale Rider, Clint Eastwood (the director and actor) conjures-up the ghost of dead westerns. He regurgitates hero-worship, Sergio Leone “Man with No Name” mythology: the Shane story with the High Noon walk-of-doom. Eastwood also tries to add an esoteric panache and a religious vein. The scenes with a spiritual air glide with a sense of purpose. But too often they come to a thud, fumbling over clunky cliché chunks: tedious man-on-horse stuff that is better left in past movies.
As always Eastwood (the actor) plays the larger-than-life figure: the no name drifter. He does his same old act although once again rather convincingly: flashing his unmistakable menacing glare, towering over tiny villagers with his statuesque build, staring at a nemesis in a showdown, riding on his white horse with a stone-faced self-assurance.
In Pale Rider Eastwood (the director) adds a little extra artsy flair which caught my eye. His character seems to sift through the cold breeze of Gold Rush era California like a transient spirit: a blur in the distance, appearing in the corner of your eye then suddenly vanishing. This kind of myth-mongering may sound familiar but Eastwood gives it a real religious tone. Obviously feeling quite confident in his on-screen dominant presence, Eastwood gives himself the role of a supernatural mishmash of Jesus, The Grim Reaper and a vengeful reincarnation. His face tightens more then ever. And he becomes all the more predictably unstoppable (even standing up to Richard “Jaws” Kiel). He adds layers to his usual impenetrable shell. But Eastwood really couldn't play it any other way. And part of me loves the stability he brings. I can always count on Eastwood to bludgeon the bad guys while staying untouched and cool. In every scene Eastwood reeks havoc but (maybe to the fault of the movie) everything stays calm and under control.
After a remote, small village of huts and log cabins is devastated by the annoyingly idiotic, barbaric goons (they even gun-down a puppy) who work for a greedy mining boss, Josh LaHood (Chris Penn), Eastwood arrives as “the miracle” in response to the hopeful prayer of a young girl, Megan (Sydney Penny). He finds the girl's father-figure, Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty), being beaten by some of the of buck-tooth delinquents. Eastwood immediately makes his presence felt: promptly bashing-in four heads with a stick. Eastwood then slaps on a white collar, joins Hull back at the battered village and becomes the “Preacher.” He brings the few remaining villagers together and gives them courage to fight against the evil LaHood. (By the way, Eastwood couldn't resist giving his spirit character a woman to sleep with.)
When LaHood offers each villager $1,000 to leave, with the guidance of Hull and the Preacher, the villagers decline. As a result they face the wrath of LaHood's seven killers: the ruthless Marshal Stockburn (John Russel) and his six deputies. Just as the final confrontation is about to occur, Eastwood takes off his white collar and straps on his holster. Apparently he's got “some unfinished business” to settle with Marshal Stockburn. Eastwood rides to town and takes the lone walk (as Gary Cooper did) up a deserted street to meet Stockburn and his six deputies. The seven killers step out of LaHood's office and neatly align for a spaghetti-western-esque face-off. Of course, Eastwood drops all six deputies with ease. He disappears from the middle of the street then kills each deputy one-by-one, popping up from a water main (which looked hokey), then out from behind barrels. Eastwood walks up to the marshal. Shockburn shouts “You!” And Eastwood, now channeling Death, shoots Stockburn five times in the same spots Eastwood has mysterious bullet wounds. He then hops on his horse and rides away. Adhering to the Shane formula, the young girl Megan runs after Eastwood, stops at the edge of town and shouts “Preacher! Preacher!...We love you Preacher...I love you!...Goodbye!”
In Pale Rider, Eastwood gives old movie myths new life but unfortunately some of the myths seem as cliché as they always did.

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