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strange, dark western with something going on beneath its B-movie surface
The Shooting shouldn't be any great shakes when it comes to westerns. That's the case at least in terms of production value. It was shot on a more-or-less-comparable shoestring budget alongside Ride in the Whirlwind by Monte Hellman, and both feature actors like Harry Dean Stanton, Millie Perkins, Warren Oates, and of course Jack Nicholson. They seem to have a tenth of most a common Hollywood budget, and especially with the Shooting you really need to pay attention at times (or just glance repeatedly at the video box description) to understand what's going on. But there's something to it, something that defines it through the mood and execution that drives up the material, provided in what seems to be a one-time-only genre exercise from Five Easy Pieces writer Carol Eastman, to a more interesting plain. As the dead end these characters are facing is going further along, the desert sun is pushing down more and more, a crushing weight on a tense atmosphere where death seems to be just at the blink of an eye.
That's at least as deep as it gets anyway. While Nicholson's Whirlwind script might have dealt better with the existential motifs (whatever they may be in interpretation), the Shooting is good for, at least, its bedrock of a story and some of its acting. Oates plays a cowboy who along with a slightly dim but alert younger cowboy are hired by a woman (just called Woman, played by Perkins with a bit of a b***h streak in a so-so turn almost in spite of a great presence to her character) who wants them to take her across a ways to a small town. Why they're hired they can't figure, and it bugs Oates all the more when another fellow starts to follow them: Billy (Nicholson), a bounty hunter with few words, black gloves and a streak of tough-guy talk whenever he speaks, follows along with them also getting a cut of the stake at hand from the Woman. Turns out there might be more than meets the eye to this mission.
What the Shooting provides best as is a creative sense of the unusual beneath what should come out of some 2nd rate paperback book. There's violence brimming at the seams, and in certain visuals, like the flashback early in the film with the character outside the ten who just keels over in the shade of blue all over. Or the figure of the bearded man with the broken leg out in the desert, who from far away looks like a weird shape until his arm moves (another doomed creature). And the climax, while at the very end needlessly ambiguous to what may or may not be a twin or revenge or whatever (not that it detracts from the mood much), has also a spirit that goes aways to make this just a tinge more than what we're expecting, from the performances and the script.
It takes a little while to start, but once the halfway mark comes and Nicholson comes on the scene- in possibly his first significant bad-ass role- it improves into something like a precursor to the recent Seraphim Falls. An obscure, dated but interesting find from talented indie filmmakers.
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