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It's 1881 in New Mexico, and the times they are a'changing. Pat Garrett, erstwhile travelling companion of the outlaw Billy the Kid has become a sheriff, tasked by cattle interests with ridding the territory of Billy. After Billy escapes, Pat assembles a posse and chases him through the territory, culminating in a final confrontation at Fort Sumner, but is unaware of the full scope of the cattle interests' plans for the New West. Written by
Ed Sutton <email@example.com>
Opening with the gunning down of Pat Garrett in 1909, we flash back to 1881 where Garrett has been hired to bring his ex-partner in crime Billy the Kid to justice. The story unfolds against a backdrop of a west that is moving forward, driven by businessmen (represented by Chisum) leaving behind the 'old ways'.
Of modern (ie after 50's and 60's) westerns Once Upon a Time in the West stands out as the best. However I feel that this film covers similar themes, of the death of the cowboy way and passing of times. The story is not really a duel between Pat and Billy but more a look at times changing around them with Garrett changing with them and Billy trying to remain still. The story is well told with plenty of good characters, great setups and interesting dialogue. The relationships and the look at the old west 'code' easily hold the interest.
Peckinpah does plenty of good work here for example intercutting the killing of Garrett with the killing of chickens etc, making it visually clever too. However his best move is the use of Bob Dylan's score it could have been intrusive and made the film feel tacky and like it tries too hard to be hip. Instead the score works well and gives the film a soulful feel.
The cast is not only superb but deep with talent. Coburn is as good as ever as Garrett, struggling to move with times he doesn't approve of. Kristofferson is good, but his character of Billy is not well developed, but he still has a strong role to play. The support cast is full of famous faces from Westerns and a few actors just starting out slim Pickens, Chill Wills, Jack Elam, Luke Ashew, Charles Martin Smith, Harry Dean Stanton and a good part for Bob Dylan.
If you're watching it make sure you've got the restored version that adds 15 minutes and uses the score better. The director's version makes more of the role of Boss Chisum and fills the story out with playful brothel scenes and delivers a few more cameos. It makes a big difference to the film and lifts the story above being Garrett versus Billy the Kid.
Overall an excellent western from one of the greats at this type of thing.
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