"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunchaser (Warner Bros, 1996)

The Titanic sinks again

I’m coming dangerously close, in these reviews of Western films, to reviewing non-Westerns. It is true that I do have a broad-church rather than a fundamentalist view of what a Western is and will cheerfully write about 'Westerns' set in modern times, other continents, and so on. But Sunchaser is at the very edge of acceptability and I won’t argue with you if you tell me it’s not a Western at all. In fact I'll probaby agree.

It tells of an upwardly-mobile and very shallow LA surgeon (Woody Harrelson, convincing) with an appalling wife (Alexandra Tydings). The doctor has, unwillingly, to treat a sixteen-year-old boy, imprisoned for various counts of first-degree murder, assault and armed robbery (Jon Seda, from Gladiator, also good although actually 26), who is terminally ill with stomach cancer. As may be imagined, they have very little in common but, as may be equally well imagined in such a film, they gradually learn mutual respect. Mucho male bonding and final hugs. Nothing homoerotic, though, don’t worry. Seda is half-Navajo and is convinced that a medicine man can save him with Indian magic. They set off (the doc at gunpoint) for Arizona. They meet Anne Bancroft, splendid as a totally bonkers PhD in a VW microbus, and various other colorful personages. They hijack some pretty cool cars.

The movie is directed by Michael Cimino. It was a miracle that any studio gave him work after the Titanic-esque Heaven’s Gate but they did. He doesn’t do a bad job, although the movie does skate over the dangerously thin ice which only barely covers sentimental treacle. The film grossed less than $30,000 domestically on a $31 million budget so it was true to Cimino’s form.

Once we get out into the Jerome, AZ locations, the picture is visually very enjoyable with some beautiful if rather National Geographic photography (Douglas Milsome). There’s a fashionable Maurice Jarre score. The editing (Joe d’Augustine) could have been sharper.

The principal weakness of the film is all the woo-woo New Age Indian mumbo-jumbo crap, which is central to the plot.

Why is it a quasi-Western? Well, these two guys go off into the West to find their fate. They show courage and deal with pursuit and the challenge of nature.

Will that do?

No? Well, Harry Carey Jr. is in it as a cashier. Maybe that will convince you.

I’ve given it a two-revolver rating instead of the one it probably deserves because of the performance of la Bancroft.


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