December 18, 2007

Mini-review: Lonesome Dove

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. Click here for the full list.)

Lonesome Dove, the mini-series

Lonesome Dove (movie; 1989)
Written by Larry McMurtry (novel) and William D. Wittliff (teleplay)
Directed by Simon Wincer

Yeah, I hear what you're saying right now, okay? "Lonesome Dove, Jason? Lonesome Dove? The schlocky romantic revisionist Western by schlocky romantic revisionist writer Larry McMurtry, which inexplicably enough won the Pulitzer in 1986, right in the middle of the Reagan years? And not even a review of the book, Jason, but of the eight-hour television mini-series that was made in 1989 from it, featuring an all-star cast which includes Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Diane Lane, Angelica Huston, Chris Cooper, and half a dozen other impressive people? Lonesome Freaking Dove, Jason?"

Yes, Lonesome Freaking Dove, okay?! It was on television the other weekend, in fact, all eight hours spread over two evenings, which I ended up catching while doing a bunch of computer work at home; and to tell you the truth, it really wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, with it being clear why the original novel ended up winning the Pulitzer in the first place, although with it also being clearly guilty of all the things it's been accused of by its critics over the years. Essentially a tale from the "End of the Old West," the story follows the late-age fate of lifelong friends Gus McCrae (Duvall) and Woodrow Call (Jones), two former Texas Rangers during the wildest days of the American frontier, who as old men in the 1880s are convinced to round up a herd of cattle in Texas and march them all the way up to Montana, where they're desperately needed as part of the last push of American settlers into the last unsettled part of America.

It's an unflinching look at all the chaos, violence and sex of the real Wild West, which makes for some scenes you can scarcely believe you're watching on television; in particular I admit I loved Diane Lane's character, the town whore in the small Texas village of Lonesome Dove where the story begins, who is the only woman any of the guys in town have slept with in years and years, which of course makes all of them desperately love her in their secret heart of hearts. But on the other hand, it's easy to see why many say this was the inspiration for Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven just three years later, that he was disgusted with seeing the romantic and revisionist take that modern Westerns were embracing those days, and that a brutally honest look at the times were needed to counterbalance them; because make no mistake, Lonesome Dove will make you want to live in the Old West, and will make you by the end kinda understand the rationale behind such Old West things as scalpings, treating women like property, the violent eradication of an entire race, and other horrible Old West things. It's no surprise, after all, that both the book and the mini-series were created while Reagan was in office.

I'm not sure if it's something I'd recommend going out of your way to see, say to the point of renting it out on DVD; it did, however, provide me two entire evenings of trifling entertainment while doing computer busywork, something just interesting enough to keep me engaged while just fluffy enough to let me do my chores as well. It's one of those kinds of projects, good to have on in the background of an otherwise boring day at home.

Out of 10: 7.5

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:16 AM, December 18, 2007. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |