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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Canadian Film Review: Gunless (2010)

* * *

Director: William Phillips
Starring: Paul Gross

For some reason, Canadian cinema doesn't have much in the way of a tradition of Westerns. Maybe it's because the genre was already out of vogue with audiences by the time Canadian cinema really started to come to prominence, but it's too bad since the genre is such fertile ground for storytelling. William Phillips' Gunless doesn't really make the most of the possibilities of a Canadian western, but in its broad, genteel way, it's a fairly amusing and certainly very watchable western comedy.

So, "once upon a time in the North..." an American gunslinger rides into a small Canadian frontier town, bound and bleeding from his last confrontation. He's The Montana Kid (Paul Gross) and there's a bounty on his head which means that he has no time to lose, a fact which doesn't seem to deter the townspeople from delaying him at every turn. The local doctor, while removing a bullet from him, rips up his pants, which means he's got to wait for them to come back from the local seamstress or ride out in the clothes he's borrowed from one of local Chinese workers. The blacksmith, after taking it upon himself to tend to The Kid's horse, makes the mistake of calling him "common," which means that as far as The Kid is concerned, they've got to shoot it out. Unfortunately the blacksmith doesn't have a gun. Fortunately Jane Taylor (Sienna Guillory), a local widow, does have a gun but it's in need of major repair before it can be used in a duel. Oh, and she wants him to help her build a windmill before she'll let him have the gun.

The longer he stays, the more involved he gets in local life and, of course, the more involved he becomes with Jane. But when the bounty hunters who have been chasing him - lead by Ben Cutler (Callum Keith Rennie) - finally catch up, he rides off into the sunset, only to have to turn around again when the locals refuse to bow down to Cutler and his gang and enter into a stand-off with them.

If I had to describe Gunless in one word, I'd go with "sitcom-y." The overall atmosphere of the film and the way that the characters interact with each other is very much like something you might see in a traditional three camera sitcom. From the fish out of water premise to the broad, easy humor to the wacky supporting cast (following the big climactic scene one of the locals runs onto the scene and has a tantrum over the fact that they had the shoot-out before he got there), it definitely feels more akin to a TV show than a film.

However, in spite of this, I quite enjoyed Gunless. It isn't challenging in any way, but it's a compentently made film and Paul Gross always makes for an engaging and enjoyable lead. Plus, Callum Keith Rennie is great in the relatively small role of Cutler - and it is small; most of the film's 86 minute running time is dedicated to town hijinks rather than the inherently more intense story of hunters and hunted - even if the film wastes Graham Greene in an even smaller, one-joke role as a liaison to the local RCMP. Gunless is nothing deep, but it's a nice, light entertainment nevertheless.

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