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As far as westerns go, the 60's were all about Italy and the spaghetti western. By 1967 the ripples Leone's movies are about to make in the American film-making business are around the corner, which leaves The Shooting hanging in a peculiar time and place. Too out there to be appreciated by the traditional western crowd of the 50's and not as cynic and hard-boiled as the spaghetti western-influenced works of the early 70's.
But it succeeds exactly because of that. Monte Hellman crafts a mesmeric, primeval, ultimately existential western that exists in a parallel western universe. A mythic world of some other order. That it refuses to sit down and explain what is going on with the plot is a testament to the film's strength. Not everything needs to be explained. It's all about the impression images make. Impressionistic in that aspect but also surreal. Very. Who is the woman? Who is Billy and the bearded man? As Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson (in an early role here but showing the potential he would fulfill later on in his career) travel through the barren desert, in search of something or someone, The Shooting slowly but gradually peels back the layers of conventional film-making to reveal an off-beat, gritty and fascinating movie. Some of the editing used by Hellman (day to night and vice versa) only serves to disorient the viewer more.
Not only is this a rare, one of a kind western but in all its psychotronic, b-movie glory, it's one of the best of its kind America has to offer. Kudos to Hellman for not refusing to take chances.
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