17 February 2005 | Whythorne
A western that deserves better
If you're looking for a Howard Hawks/John Wayne-style western, the Missouri Breaks may not be for you. It is, in my opinion, the most sadly underrated western ever.
This film didn't get the treatment it deserved when it came out in the 70s in part because its two stars, coming off movies like the Godfather and Chinatown, were box office powerhouses in their prime when uniquely paired together. I don't know what film could have matched the expectations of the critics, especially a western that was probably more low key and off-beat than anticipated.
I will never forget the first time I watched this movie and how pleasantly shocked I was at how good it actually is.
Brando's portrayal is so wonderfully eccentric it gets more and more enjoyable with repeated viewings. Nicholson's, meanwhile, exemplifies the charisma that we associate with him being at the top of his craft during the Chinatown/Cuckoo's Nest era in his career.
While the two big name stars don't disappoint, the rest of the cast is stellar. Kathleen Lloyd gives the kind of performance from a lesser known actress that has me scrambling for the video guide wondering what other films she might be seen in. Randy Quaid's role is fascinating for being so early in his career. But Harry Dean Stanton delivers an especially understated, yet weighty performance as Nicholson's closest partner.
The dialog is often humorous, especially one scene between Lloyd and Nicholson where he drawls: "Keep the dang thing, I don't want it!"
The Missouri Breaks has extremely interesting, individual characterizations with authentic settings that take you back to a credible old West that is not Hollywood back-lot. The story is funny at times, but extremely tense as it approaches its climax.
Nothing irks me more than a movie that is wonderful in all aspects expect for the score, but that is not an issue here. John Williams' music, with occasional emphasis on the harmonica, fits well with the style of the movie.
If you appreciate the genre, this is entertaining and worth owning. It's the kind of western that should be watched several times to appreciate some of the more subtle nuances and details.