My love of Westerns expands to spoofs of the genre. Love Blazing Saddles, Support Your Local Sheriff, The Paleface, Maverick, Cat Ballou. Yes, I’ll even admit to a fondness for Shanghai Noon, and will further admit that I did not totally hate A Million Ways to Die in the West.
So when I heard there was a Canadian spoof of Westerns, the 2010 film Gunless, I had to check it out.
How does it stack up to other Western spoofs?
Somewhere in the Shanghai Noon area, but definitely much better than A Million Ways to Die in the West. Fun, with a neat twist that sets it apart from other spoofs.
Gunless concerns one Sean Lafferty (Paul Gross) aka The Montana Kid. On the run from a lynch mob, he wanders over the border into the Dominion of Canada. Stopping finally in a small town, he is first concerned with getting bullets for his gun. When he steps out of the general store, he finds his horse is gone. Wrongly assuming the blacksmith (Tyler Mane) has stolen the horse, he calls him out. Only problem: neither the blacksmith, or anyone else in town, owns a handgun.
Needing to adhere to the code of the West, he agrees to build a windmill for a young widow (Sienna Guillory) in exchange for a broken pistol he means to repair so his opponent will not be unarmed.
Well, I think you can see where this story is going. Stuck in a town of Canadians, who are friendly and helpful, “Sean” (as everyone calls him) begins to question his life as a gunslinger. And, of course, the lovely widow, who is being courted by a hapless Mountie (Dustin Milligan) . . .
Yep, it’s not hard to see where this is going.
Predictable it may be, but it has its charms.
First of all, the dry, quirky humor that so many Canadian comedies possess. The town folk are both puzzled and dazzled by Sean. Yet it doesn’t take long for them to absorb him into the community, though he still plans to face their local blacksmith in a duel. Even the blacksmith can’t stop himself from helping Sean by fixing some of the parts of the broken gun. His rival stops his Mountie comrades from beating him up.
I mean, Canadians are so darn NICE. They are so nice they stand up to a posse (headed by Callum Keith Rennie) that comes after Sean, grabbing rifles they usually only use for hunting.
That, and the contrast with the American obsession with gun culture, is the major joke running through the film. Sean, exposed to so much niceness in the face of his own obstinate adherence to the “code of the West” finally begins to question his way of life.
The one frustration with the movie is it could have been so, so much better if someone had taken another couple of passes over the script. The plot is too by-the-numbers, Sean’s epiphany is too abrupt.
But back to the positives:
Gross does a funny and credible Clint Eastwood-ish take on the typical Western protagonist. The scenery (shot in British Columbia) is gorgeous. The supporting cast is very good, particularly Milligan as the Dudley Do-Wrong. (Though Graham Greene, as his Native side-kick who basically just stands in the background and rolls his eyes at his stupidity, is wasted.)
Here’s another good thing about the movie: American films that “decry” violence are almost always really, really violent. Here’s one that manages to decry it without using it as an excuse to have a big, bloody shoot-em-up anyway.
To do that and be fun at the same time is pretty great. Gunless earns a spot on my list of “Western Spoofs I Like a Lot.”