The Shootist Reviews
John Wayne's last movie is a great one. It's also quite an appropriate one, it's lead character mirroring Wayne's own life in many respects. Though Wayne did not have cancer at the time of filming, he had serious health issues and died of cancer three years later. Knowing that this is John Wayne's last movie and what he was going through in making it makes the movie so much more intimate and emotional.
Not that this is just good because it is John Wayne's last film - it's great anyway. Wonderful, powerful, emotional plot, well directed by Don Siegel. Some good themes too - the dying of the old West, the ending of a career, how you can't escape your past, dying with dignity and life's cycle.
Some good action scenes too. It is a Western, after all!
Adding to the nostalgia, we have 67-year old Jimmy Stewart in a supporting role. His appearance provides one of the great in-jokes of the movie: when John Wayne and his characters' first meet, Wayne says "It's been 15 years since I last saw you!". John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart last worked together on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 15 years earlier.
Rounding off a great cast we have Lauren Bacall and, representing the new generation, Ron Howard. Less impressive is Harry Morgan (of MASH fame) as the Marshall. Quite hammy.
Worth watching for historic reasons, and simply because it is a great movie.
The Shootist is one of the most unconventional westerns ever to feature the name of John Wayne. The genre legend was one never to break away from simplistic narrative tropes throughout the decades largely due to his conservative nature, though he did occasionally take on alternative approaches in cases such as The Searchers (1956) as a means of making slight adjustments to the changing times. In The Shootist, he takes on a role perfect for his age. Given that he was dealing with terminal cancer at the time he played the role, portraying an ageing gunman battling cancer is a role befitting enough to produce an effective swan song for the man's career.
The Shootist is arguably the most character-driven film of John Wayne's career. While viewers may be deterred by the minimization of shootouts and horse chases, the depth of the film is frequently enough to compensate. It admittedly means that the film progresses at a slower rate than most films in the already-slow western genre and that there is less style-driven content to distract audiences. However, the extent of depth found in The Shootist is unprecedented for any John Wayne film. The main theme in The Shootist is the concept of death; while most John Wayne western films trivialize the idea of death to being little more than the afterthought of an action scene at best, The Shootist encourages viewers to truly consider its connotations. The protagonist is one who awaits his own death and the manner in which he is treated as a result. Forced to confont the world he is leaving behind and the terms he wishes to die on, The
Shootist considers so much more to the idae behind death than most films would ever imagine. Frequently, that kind of mezmerising thought provocation is enough to keep viewers in the mood of the film and it is captured through a dedicated cast and a strong screenplay. Many viewers will find disappointed with the fact that the film doesn't match its title too much or live up to its generic contract as a John Wayne film, but Donald Siegel proves his worth as a creator of much more than just action cinema with The Shootist. It's a film which is against type for its star and director which results in unprecedented results for the audience.
And even though it doesn't emphasize its imagery too heavily, The Shootist is still a stylish film. The western iconography works to easily convince viewers of the narrative context. The cinematography is steady, the monochromatic colour is gentle and the minimal action in the film is executed with powerful technique and even some effective blood. But all in all, John Wayne's performance is truly the major reason for anyone to see The Shootist as even people who aren't particularly fond of the western genre can appreciate the raw brilliance of his performance. The instant John Wayne rides up onto the screen it immediately becomes a sight to behold. The legendary actor still maintains the distinctive charm of his voice and heroic stature, but there is far more frailty to him this time around. There is a lot more character in his face as his expressions actually shift around a lot more this time, and its largely because the story doesn't hide him behind western iconography but rather demands he actually dedicate himself with a strong performance. There is tremendous heart in John Wayne's performance, and though he still carries the larger-than-life patriotic spirit within him, it takes a backseat to his genuine charisma as a man of legitimate dramatic talents. His reliance on the genuine emotion he conveys through his face and voice The Academy Award given to the actor for True Grit (1969) should have been savoured for The Shootist as it is truly the greatest effort of the man's career.
Ron Howard is also put into top form. Between being the lovable Richard "Richie" Cunningham on the sitcom Happy Days (1974-1984) and becoming the Academy Award winning film director we know him as today, The Shootist served as a powerful medium for the actor's dramatic talents. His chemistry with John Wayne is remarkable because as well as standing as his own character, there is a real sense of admiration that Ron Howard expresses in his character as he looks up to John Bernard "J.B" Books. More and more we see elements of John Wayne's former glory reflecting in Ron Howard through the actor's own charms, and the fact that he carries this while also standing his own ground as a respectable dramatic performer is a firm achievement. Ron Howard delivers one of the most accomplished performances of his career, and his interactions with John Wayne make him one of the finest actors to have ever shared the screen with the western legend.
Teaming up John Wayne with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) collaborator James Stewart and Blood Alley (1955) collaborator Lauren Bacall, The Shootist boasts a lot of appeal with its classical film stars which helps to fulfil aspects of the generic contract left blank by the absence of action. John Wayne's shared moments with these greats evokes different results from the respective actors; James Stewart's sophistication creates an incredibly direct relationship between the two, whereas in the case of Lauren Bacall there is constantly a sense of mystery over how their relationship will develop. Scatman Crothers is also a nice touch, so every cast member of The Shootist can be credited to bringing out the absolute best in John Wayne.
The Shootist lacks the patriotic action which is typically offered by John Wayne films, but it more than makes up for it in with a deep and meaningful examination of death propelled by the greatest performance of John Wayne's career and the support of the remarkable cast around him.
I would have given it less had it not been for the duke.