As a precursor to our film project, 12 Western Feature-Length Films in 12 Months, which Running Wild Films and 5J Media will start producing in 2016, director Travis Mills shares his thoughts on films from the genre as he studies Westerns in preparation for our own. Follow the project here on Facebook
This series of short blogs is titled “Western Impressions”.
The Good Old Boys (1995)
Tommy Lee Jones’s first Western as a director is just as good as his second, though they couldn’t be more different from each other. This is so low key and wonderful. It shows that westerns don’t need to be driven by action. This one just follows these beautifully drawn characters from event to event and by the end of the picture I feel like I know them as friends. And damn, is it romantic.
Lasting impression: The scene where Spacek tells Jones about her love that died and he says “He didn’t look like me, did he?” before he kisses her for the first time.
There is nothing more fun that recasting some of our favorite pictures (or even perhaps ones that were never made). To begin a series called The Casting Director, we will play god for imaginary productions and take a stab at recasting some classic performances (just for fun).
First up, one of the greatest Westerns of all time:
Jeremy Renner as John Russell
Perhaps one of Paul Newman’s best performances, the role of John Russell (or Hombre, half-breed/quiet anti-hero) is hard to fill but I feel there is no current actor better suited to play it than Jeremy Renner. Having proved himself in The Hurt Locker and The Town (not to mention overlooked performances before his breakout in the underrated Twelve and Holding and the horrible 28 Weeks Later, worth it only for Renner), he has the necessary grit to play John Russell. I do not think that he would over-act for an instant and would understand the brilliance of Newman’s work while bringing plenty of his own to the role.
Tommy Lee Jones as Cicero Grimes
Richard Boone cannot be replaced. His role in Hombre and The Tall T are possibly the greatest Western villain roles in all cinema. When considering how to cast Cicero Grimes, I thought of some qualities Boone brought to the role. After all, as my Cinema Station partner Gus Edwards pointed out, Grimes is not a monster. Like all good Western antagonists, he has a code; he lives by his own values and is a formidable if nasty and relentless bad guy. He is charming, funny, and mean as hell. Now, although this actor has not made a career of playing villains, I believe Tommy Lee Jones would be good for the role. First, he understands the Western genre (his own directorial effort Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a great film). Also, from his performance in that and The Fugitive, I recognize a rough, mean sense of humor in Jones. In the latter film, he is charming, tough, relentless and yet reasonable. It would be fun to play off these elements and I believe Jones would be more than capable to play Grimes.
Virginia Madsen as Jessie
It was much harder to recast Jessie (originally played by Diane Cilento) than any other character. I find it ironic that (from my viewpoint) most of the female actors today are much softer than the ones working in old Hollywood. We have no Lauren Bacalls, no Marlene Dietrichs, no Joan Crawfords. Well, there is at least one great actress we have: Virginia Madsen. I really believe that Virginia, as a woman, has the grit to fit perfectly in the Western genre. Modern directors have struggled with this type of casting (Annette Benning in Open Range and Renee Zellweger in Appaloosa) but Virginia is an overlooked talent. Starting with Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot (which she steals) to Sideways (which she was the only redeeming part of), Madsen remains the toughest, sexiest American woman in movies today and she is the only one I can see playing Jessie.
Edward James Olmos as Henry Mendez
Martin Balsam was a fantastic character actor. He belongs to a tradition of Hollywood craftsmen who transitioned from one role to the next, regardless of race/age, and turned in good work. I would like to cast Edward James Olmos as Henry Mendez, the stagecoach driver. Olmos is an actor who commands the screen with silent integrity. At an older age, I believe he could capture Mendez’s sympathetic nature as well as his feebleness in the conflict. For this role, I would want to push (more than the original film) the idea that Mendez is tired, maybe once had fire to fight but has seen everything and just wants to get by. He admires John Russell’s pride but advises him to be a “white man for a while”. Olmos has not had a very good role in movies for a long time (though his performance in The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez is yet another underrated entry in the genre) and I would like to see him get some characters he can really sink his teeth into.
Christopher Plummer as Dr. Alex Favor
I believe Christopher Plummer would make a good replacement for Fredric March. Now, I base this decision most on studying his work in The Insider. He is noble, charismatic, yet treacherous and selfish. Plummer would make a damn fine Dr. Alex Favor, too good to have half-breed John Russell sit in the wagon while all the time stealing money from the reservations. I could see the whole bunch having pity for this old, handsome character while “hombre” sees the rotten son of a bitch he really is. With a long career behind him, still turning in good acting, Plummer is my choice.
The Director: Ben Affleck
Finally, I would like to recast the director. Martin Ritt did a terrific job with Hombre. There are few directors who can make a good Western. Though he has not experimented in the genre yet, I give the job to Ben Affleck. With Gone Baby Gone and The Town under his belt and more to come, Affleck is probably the most promising director in Hollywood today. He will undoubtedly have a couple misses at some point but I sense that he has the smarts and persistence to keep telling good stories. It would be interesting to see him take on a Western and with the strength of the male characters in his previous films, I think he’s cut out for it. Also, he has worked with Jeremy Renner and they might make a great team for a redo of Hombre.
Anyway, it’s all dreaming. But heck, what else is there.