1878 in New Mexico: John Tunstall picks up young gun men from the road to have them work on his ranch, but also to teach them reading and to civilize them. However he's a thorn in the side of the rich rancher Murphy, as he's a competitor in selling cattle. One day he's shot by Murphy's men. Judge Wilson can't do anything, since Sheriff Brady is one of Murphy's men. But attorney Alex persuades him to constitute Tunstall's young friends to Deputies and give them warrants of arrest for the murderers. Instead of arresting them, William Bonney just shoots them down. Soon the 5 guys become famous and William gets the name "Billie the Kid" - but they're also chased by dozens of Murphy's men and the army. The people however honor him as fighter for justice.Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
Interesting modern western relies a little too heavily on cliche
An Englishman running a New Mexico ranch in the old west recruits wayward young men to be his ranch hands. Among their duties is protecting the ranch from his more powerful and villainous neighbors, thus earning them the title "regulators". Through a combination of discipline and nurturing, he is able to civilize the men and give them discipline. When murdered by another rancher, the regulators are deputized to help catch the men who did it. But one of the regulators, known now as Billy the Kid, is a relative newcomer who has not yet learned self-discipline. Engaged in a power struggle for leadership of the group, he is far more interested in killing the villains than bringing them to justice, thus turning the group into outlaws themselves.
Although the movie is very well made, it never really explores the potential of the plot, relying instead on cliches to entertain us. It also seems completely confused in its portrayal of the main character. Is William Bonney a homicidal maniac or a fiercely loyal man out to avenge the death of a father figure? Is he a caustic head-strong youth or a steely smooth-talking leader? Depending on the scene, you can take your pick. He's clearly supposed to be a sympathetic anti-hero, but this is accomplished only by turning his antagonist into a cartoonishly evil villain, portrayed in perfectly predictable manner by Jack Palance. The shootout scenes are nicely filmed, but as the movie progresses they move more and more towards standard western cliche.
The strongest point of this movie is the relationship of the characters played by Sutherland and Estevez. Doc is strongly attracted to Billy the Kid and admires his strength of character at the same time that he fears him and is repulsed by his murderous actions. Both actors do an excellent job trying to pull this off in spite of the limited development which the script allows. This and the support of a very competent cast makes the film worth watching but not necessarily worth going out of your way for.
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