Back in the glory days of 1980, Michael Bay was just a fifteen year old lad with a love of movies who would soon begin his enrolment at Wesleyan University. Bryan Singer too was a mere child, probably admiring films like The Long Riders with his buddy Ethan Hawke. It would take a further six years for John Mc Tiernan to carve his name in the Hollywood ladder and John Woo was still finding his directorial roots in Southern China. The man to watch when it came to extremely stylised action was one Walter Hill, the creator of such awesome gun-totting avalanches as Extreme Prejudice, The Warriors and Johnny Handsome. Long since categorised as the' director for choosing style over content, Hill started out his career as a screenwriter. He penned The Getaway for Sam Peckinpah, who was obviously his idol, and in almost all of his movies he adds visual flourishes that are unsubtly reminiscent of Peckinpah's accomplishments. (Check out Extreme Prejudice where Hill almost out Peckinpahs Peckinpah!) Like all of cinema's greatest achievers, Hill had an unbridled love for the western. Over the length of his career, he would return to the genre again and again, giving us offerings that ranged from the large-scale excess of Geronimo: an American legend, to the smaller, but just as historically accurate Wild Bill.
By far the best of his Western work, The Long Riders tells the tale of the James/Younger legacy, a slice of history that has been adapted for the silver screen on countless occasions. Perhaps the film's strongest and most alluring attribute is the fact that the cast contains real life acting siblings in the shape of the Carradines, the Keaches, the Guests and the Quaids as the band of outlaws. It's also one of the finest and most attractively crafted movies of its kind, equally as beautiful as Heaven's Gate and as tirelessly entertaining as Tombstone.
I doubt that fans of the genre will need any introduction to the exploits of Jesse James, so I won't bother to list a plot synopsis. But reportedly, this is one of the more accurate descriptions of the adventures of the infamous anti-establishment crusader. Frankly, if outings like Frank and Jesse and the dismal American Outlaws are anything to go by, it's also one of the best of the colossal bunch.
The thespian brothers hold up their ends with finesse, and without taking anything away from the Keaches who don't fail to entertain from start to finish, one can only wonder how the film could have turned out if Jeff and Beau Bridges would have been available to accept the leads. David Carradine gives a scene stealing performance, making the most of his relationship' with an incredibly sexy Pamela Reed as Belle Shirley. Props are certainly due to Randy Quaid for not over cooking his threats against the singer in the bar scene at the beginning, he comfortably makes those few short lines the best of the whole damn movie. It's a shame that James Keach could never make his star shine brighter on the Hollywood A-list. Even so, he still has one or two great performances to look back on with enough pride to show that he was once a force to be reckoned with on the tinsel-town ladder.
Being as this is a Walter Hill joint, all the flashy trademarks are rooted firmly in place, including the use of his ever-dependable cast alumni such as James Remar. Surprisingly enough, for a director that's famed for his love of stylised violence, there are very few gunfights throughout the runtime, which somehow makes them even more powerful when they do finally occur. The Northfield Minnesota ambush is perhaps one of the greatest shoot-outs of western history, utilising a great use of sound to make each bullet hit home with a stark sense of realism that's almost nightmare inducing. Co-ordinator Craig Baxley should take a bow for his constant but never over-excessive use of jaw dropping stunts. Bodies literally fly through the air with an exquisite force that manages to bring home the impact of a gunshot with adeptness. Long Riders also boats more than its share of accurately realised set locations. But unlike Michael Cimino, Hill never over indulges or looses the plot to period preciseness, so the sheen is never overpowering or unwelcome.
Although Long Riders may not hold the masterpiece status of such often-touted westerns as The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven or even Dances with Wolves, it's still a five star movie. It's superbly acted, impressively casted, flawlessly directed and it boasts some of the greatest music that you're likely to find this side of an opera. Many people often consider Tombstone to be the all time great popcorn western.' Well, I can only presume that's because they haven't actually seen this long forgotten classic slice of storytelling. If you're a fan of the Wild West and you've let this slip you by, then you need to be asking yourself why