Tommy Lee Jones and John Wayne are among the stars we’re spotlighting this week.
One more time: We have cast our net wide to round up movies and TV series of special interest to C&I readers that are available on the most popular streaming platforms. This week, we have selected dramas from Amazon Prime, Crackle, Peacock, Tubi and YouTube.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Amazon Prime)
Tommy Lee Jones pulled double duty on this critically acclaimed neo-western drama, making his directorial debut while offering a precise, subtly detailed performance that earned him the Best Actor award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. Written by Guillermo Arriaga (Babel, 21 Grams) and filmed in various locations in Texas, the film details the fateful journey of Texas cattle rancher Pete Perkins (Jones) after Melquiades Estrada (Julio César Cedillo), an undocumented laborer in his employ, is killed by a reckless Border Patrol agent (Barry Pepper). “Pete takes justice into his own hands,” critic Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star review. “And not simple justice, which might involve killing the agent, but poetic justice, which elevates the movie into the realms of parable.”
Meek’s Cutoff (Crackle)
Director Kelly Reichardt (First Cow) immerses her audience in the ordeal endured by frontier settlers seemingly on the road to nowhere in this demanding 2010 drama loosely based on real-life events. In 1845, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a cocksure mountain scout, is contracted to lead three families by wagon train on a journey westward through the high desert of eastern Oregon. Unfortunately, Meek seriously miscalculates when he takes the group on what he claims will be a time-saving shortcut. Even as provisions run low and water becomes scarce, Meek adamantly refuses to admit his mistake — leading to a clash of wills between him and Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams of Venom), a member of the party whose growing mistrust of Meek drives her to defiance. “Imagine a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens,” wrote Chicago Reader critic Ben Sachs, “and you might get a sense of what [Reichardt] pulls off here: a sincere re-creation of the pioneer experience, brought to life through careful, often unexpected detail.”
The Proposition (Peacock)
After an outlaw gang led by his notorious older brother slaughters a family in the Australian outback of the 1880s, desperado Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce of Mare of Easttown) is offered a hard bargain by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), the closest thing to a law enforcer in the area. He must either track down and kill his bad brother Arthur (Danny Huston) within nine days or Mikey (Richard Wilson), his feeble-minded younger sibling, will be hanged on Christmas Day. The Proposition (2005) sparked many favorable comparisons to the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone when it reached U.S. screens a year after its Australian premiere. Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal hailed it as “a visionary tale of a fragile civilizing impulse crushed by family loyalty and a lust for revenge,” and Chris Barsanti of Film Journal International raved: “Very simply, this is the finest, strangest and most uncompromising western to hit screens since Unforgiven.”
As big-screen westerns began their slow fade from the multiplexes during the 1970s, Cheyenne star Clint Walker returned to television in a series of sturdily made and well-received TV-movies. Directed by Ted Post (Hang ‘Em High), Yuma (1971) actually was intended as a pilot for a western series, with Walker perfectly cast as Dave Harmon, a former U.S. Army officer turned U.S. Marshal who pursues a personal agenda while working as a lawman in towns near army forts. He offers a strong yet understated performance as Harmon lays down the law in the lawless town of Yuma, occasionally running up against drunken cowboys, crooked cattle dealers, increasingly unhappy Indians – who aren’t getting nearly the number of cattle they’ve been promised in a treaty – and a powerful rancher (Morgan Woodward) who’s encouraged to think the worst of Harmon. One can’t help wishing the TV-movie actually had spawned a weekly drama, if only to enjoy more edgy confrontations between Walker and Peter Mark Richman, who presumably would have been a series regular as fort commander Major Luca. “If he’s guilty,” the major says of a soldier suspected of murder, “he’ll face a court martial.” Harmon begs to differ: “If he’s guilty, he’ll face me.”
Angel and the Badman (YouTube)
Writer-director James Edward Grant’s classic 1947 crowd-pleaser showcases John Wayne as Quirt Evans, a notorious gunslinger who’s sorely tempted to hang up his shootin’ irons when he falls in love with a lovely young Quaker woman (Gail Russell). Unfortunately, his conversion to non-violence may be short-lived: Two pistol-packing owlhoots from Evans’ past are bound and determined to make sure our hero doesn’t have much of a future. Now available on YubeTube in a spiffed-up 4K edition, Angel and the Badman was one of several collaborations between Wayne and Grant. Among Grant’s other screenwriting credits: Sands of Iwo Jima, Flying Leathernecks, Hondo, The Alamo, The Comancheros and McLintock!