By this point in his career Clint Eastwood was best known for his westerns, he was essentially the ultimate badass cowboy. In the dictionary under westerns, you’d see a picture of Eastwood (nah not really). But yeah Eastwood was the supreme plains drifter with no name.
This was, I think, Eastwood’s last foray into the realms of western badassery as a no name loner dealing lots of badass justice. He was already slowly moving into a more varied selection of film roles and this seemed to be his final goodbye to this particular genre. And with that we get a very typical Clint Eastwood cowboy flick; all the tropes and cliches you’ve come to expect which is both good and bad truth be told.
The plot: A small bunch of prospectors in California are trying their luck at panning for gold. Thing is they are doing so on land that a greedy big-time miner wants so he can mine it up. Naturally the big-time miner known as Lahood (Richard Dysart) and his cronies are all baddies so they try to run the prospectors off the land with violence. But low and behold, who should come trotting into the picture to save the day? Yep you’ve guessed it, its Clint as yet another no name hero (actually this character is a clerical man but he’s simply referred to as the Preacher).
OK so firstly I have to mention the scenery in this movie, it is stunning. Filmed within the Boulder mountains and Sawtooth national park of Idaho, along with Tuolumne County in California, its all breathtaking. I saw this movie on bluray which made this countryside look even more impressive. The clear blue skies, open grassy ranges, jagged mountains capped with snow, dense forests, and the highly authentic looking small town of Lahood. It all looked terrific and really popped on the screen.
I guess the problems start with the baddies, those dastardly miners. Basically they weren’t a very intimidating bunch truth be told, hardly had me on the edge of my seat. Then you had their leader, a very young Chris Penn. Penn’s character was the son of Lahood, basically he’s the spoilt kid who’s in a position of power but really shouldn’t be. Its a good idea but nothing is really done with it. You kinda expect more of a loose cannon, an annoying hotheaded youth shooting his mouth and guns off, but no. The only real evil he gets up to is attempted rape. K that’s admittedly pretty bad but he does nothing much else. Lahood himself is your stereotypical aged, short, tubby, balding man in a suit with a fat tash.
The elite team of deputies led by Marshal Stockburn (John Russell) who are hired by Lahood to kill the Preacher, are again an element in the film that weren’t used to their full capacity in my opinion. For starters Russell was clearly too old for the role as he doesn’t move much. Whilst I like the fact that there’s an air of mystery surrounding these men and the history between Stockburn and the Preacher, maybe just a hint of backstory wouldn’t have gone a miss. But bottom line these guys just weren’t utilised enough which was a shame because they were cool. In the end they all get killed off pretty easily one by one by the Preacher in a sequence that we’ve seen repeated so many times. Shout out to early Billy Drago role here.
Speaking of backstory, I guess I should point out that Eastwood deliberately made the Preacher like a ghost. He rides in outta nowhere, as though he was summoned by a greater force to protect the innocent prospectors (a prospectors daughter prays for help as he rides in). At the end he also rides off again to an unknown destination, maybe to save more innocent people? The character obviously does this type of thing often because we see his past gunshot injuries and we see that he keeps his gun and holster locked up in a bank, obviously for these situations. So its totally open-ended which is fine, I guess.
Anyway things get a little bit too silly in places, take über baddie ‘Club’ (Richard Kiel). He is comically taken down by the Preacher early on and later the character actually does the same U-turn as Kiel’s other famous character ‘Jaws’ (he turns into a goodie and helps the Preacher). Then there is also the initial fight between the Preacher and Lahood’s men which involves hickory axe staves. Oh and there’s that whole underage sex angle with the 14 year old girl protagonist. One of the prospectors daughters falls in love with the Preacher (obviously a silly teen crush) and isn’t shy about saying so. Of course the Preacher turns her advances down but holy moly that whole subplot was awkward (and it carries through to the end!).
This is a mixed bag for an Eastwood western it really is. On the one hand the movie is serious about its story, this isn’t a film for kids or anything. There are some very violent moments in the movie with people getting shot multiple times and shot in the forehead (no cuts). There are beatings, the attempted rape, pillage, and a calf and dog get shot dead (all with blood). Not forgetting the underage girl trying to get into bed with the Preacher.
Then on the other hand there are the typical little moments of dark humour you’d expect from Clint, moments of goofiness. As mentioned Richard Kiel’s rather stupid and pointless character. And then really really stupid western cliches such as the baddie gang of miners bursting into a store to gun the Preacher down (where he was sitting moments before). Only for the room to be (clearly) empty when they burst in, yet they carry on shooting, shooting at nothing. Then of course the Preacher casually appears and guns them all down. The ending has a heavy dose of deus ex machina about it too. The Preacher has killed all the bad guys except Lahood who is sneaking up right behind him. But then out of the blue one of the prospectors appears and shoots Lahood. But I guess it showed that the Preacher wasn’t that invincible, he could have died there.
I like that Clint is an aged grizzled gunfighter in this movie, I liked his look and the fact he was a preacher. Yet even though this movie does deliver everything you would want and expect from a Clint Eastwood cowboy flick, you can’t escape the feeling that you’ve seen it all before (which you have). Apart from the odd plot tweak its essentially no different from many of his other western movies. That’s not a completely negative thing as Eastwood is/was a master of the western genre, but bare it in mind.