13 May 2001 | gbrumburgh
Ambitious, close-to-legendary TV epic based on Larry McMurtrey's sprawling, episodic novel, a worthy cousin to "Giant."
Little did I realize when I picked up the videotape of `Lonesome Dove' that I would be pitching a tent myself, camped out in front of the tube for most of my Saturday (6 hours, not including pauses for bathroom breaks, meals, letting the dog out, etc.). It certainly rearranged all my weekend priorities, but it was well worth the sacrifice after all the hoopola I've heard regarding this movie. It is a must experience.
Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones top-line an outstanding cast in this epic-proportioned western which should have been worthy of a cinematic release for it captures beautifully the look, the feel and the time of the Old West as never before.
In a nutshell, it relates the tale of two former Texas Rangers, Woodrow Call (Jones) and Gus McCrae (Duvall), both getting on in years, who manage a dusty but comfortable living running a cattle company just outside rundown Lonesome Dove, Texas. A third ranger, Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), returns from up north, on the lam for an accidental murder, and perks Woodrow's interest in being the first to take a herd into the mostly unsettled northern region of Montana, while laying claim to an area considered `perfect cattle territory.' He convinces relaxed old-timer Gus, who is content these days with a bottle of whiskey and a whore, to join him for one last thrill to recapture their old "Texas Ranger" glory days and shake up their too sedentary lives.
Re-stealing horses and a herd from Mexican bandidos, they sign on a team of men to undertake the arduous journey eventually braving about every type of adversity imaginable. When it's not windstorms and snake-infested waters threatening life, limb and livestock, they have murderous horse thieves and vengeful Indians to contend with.
What makes `Lonesome Dove' stand out proudly is not only its rich, panoramic beauty and intriguing story-lines, but its caring, sharply-defineated characters that keep this six-hour plus movie from ever wandering off. These are people you become fascinated with; people that you want to know as much as you can about even minor characters stay with you here, such as the desponding, thick-accented bar-owner who carries the torch for one of his whores, or the spiritual cook who passes out whittled amulet-like carvings to the cattle team. When asked why he doesn't ride horses, he simply responds, `We are all animals. How would you like it if someone rode on you?'
An intricate, finely-tuned subplot weaves in and out of the main Woodrow/Gus narrative. A northern sheriff July Johnson (Chris Cooper), accompanied by his stepson, reluctantly takes off to Texas after Jake Spoon for the accidental murder of the town's mayor, but gets sidetracked halfway when he learns his new wife Elmira (Glenne Headley) has abandoned him and the boy in her obsession to find the no-account man she left behind.
The acting is superb all around, especially by those mentioned above. They give this movie such heart and scope. Also contributing greatly are Diane Lane as the town whore who seeks a better life; earnest Ricky Schroeder as the youngest member of the team whose family tree is questioned; Danny Glover, the wise and dedicated team scout; Barry Corbin as the slow-thinking undersheriff; Frederic Forrest as the murderous redskin Blue Duck; Angelica Huston as Duvall's kind-hearted former flame; Steve Buscemi and Frederick Coffin as a pair of lusty lowlifes; Nina Siemaszko as a scrappy backwoods waif, and others too numerous to name. But Tommy Lee Jones and, especially, Robert Duvall are the heart and soul of this piece. They limn characters so fascinating and complete, they just stand apart from the rest. Gus McCrae, in particular, will be remembered as one of Duvall's proudest creations.
So, if you are into all-day campouts that will make you feel you yourself have been on a trek, `Lonesome Dove' is your ticket. It is wondrous entertainment that now lies in the miniseries Hall of Fame along with "Roots."