Lou Diamond Phillips, Harrison Ford and Delroy Lindo are among the stars in this week’s roundup of streaming options.
Some Wild West adventures are wilder — much wilder — than others. If you’re hankering for an oater off the beaten track, consider these three possibilities. Just click on the title, and you’ll see where to stream it..
C&I reader favorite Lou Diamond Phillips was fresh from his multi-season run as Henry Standing Bear on Longmire when he managed to steal every scene that wasn’t bolted to the floor with his gleefully fearsome performance as manic gunslinger Johnny Kane in Big Kill, a hugely entertaining and unabashedly old-fashioned western.
The movie, written and directed by costar Scott Martin, tells the story of Philadelphia accountant turned Wild West tenderfoot Jim Andrews (Christoph Sanders), who travels to the Arizona mining town of Big Kill to reunite with his brother, owner of a local saloon. Along the way, he makes the acquaintance of two roguish gamblers — Jake Logan (Martin) and Travis Parker (Clint Hummel) — who, truth to tell, are much more adept at drawing guns than dealing cards. A good thing, too, because Jim needs all the help he can get when, after arriving in Big Kill with his new buddies, he discovers the town is controlled by The Preacher (Jason Patric), a soft-spoken sociopath who solemnly delivers last rites to his victims, and Johnny Kane (Phillips), who takes unseemly delight in doing the Preacher’s dirty work.
Scott Martin admitted to C&I in 2018 that he often found it difficult to maintain a straight face while acting opposite Phillips during on-location filming in New Mexico: “Every one of these line reads he came out with, he did them with such fun and this, like, twinkle in his eye. I’d be sitting there, and there were a couple of times when we’d be in the middle of a scene, shooting, and I have to say: I caught myself being an audience, and just watching him. He was so funny. I’d tell myself, ‘OK, you’ve got to stay in character, you’ve got to stay in it.’ But…
“OK,” Martin continued, “I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a big shootout outside, and he comes walking back in and looks at us, points his finger, and goes ‘Boom!’ And then walks back out. And I just started dying laughing. I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me!’ And that smile — I was not expecting that smile all the time. It was just creepy, in all the best ways.”
Based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same title created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Cowboys & Aliens is an improbably entertaining genre mashup that is all the more engaging because everyone involved plays it perfectly straight. That is, as director Jon Favreau explained to C&I shortly before the sci-fi action-adventure’s 2011 theatrical release, it’s “a very traditional western” that just happens to include some fearsome extraterrestrials.
The movie spins a fanciful tale set in the New Mexico Territory of 1875. The desert town of Absolution is controlled by Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford — yes, that Harrison Ford), a grizzled tyrant who rules with a whim of iron, and whose spoiled son (Paul Dano of There Will Be Blood) is repeatedly at loggerheads with the local sheriff (Keith Carradine). One day, a stranger (Daniel Craig, out of James Bondage) with no memory of his past wanders into Absolution. At first, the only clue to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles his wrist. But then someone identifies him as a notorious outlaw, and he winds up inside the local jail.
Which, of course, places him in the right place at the right time to join forces with the sheriff, Col. Dolarhyde, other townspeople, and several Apache warriors from the surrounding area when marauding extraterrestrials drop in for a hunting party.
“What we’ve done,” co-screenwriter Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek , Mission: Impossible III) told C&I, “is to essentially set up this very serious, very stark, very dangerous world with all the conventions that apply to a traditional western. And into the middle of that world, we drop aliens — and then have people react the way people in that world would have reacted.”
Imagine a dream team collaboration of Sergio Leone, John Woo and Spike Lee, and you’re ready for The Harder They Fall, director Jeymes Samuel’s audaciously stylized and brazenly entertaining western, an exhilarating mashup of New School hip-hop swagger, Old West revenge melodrama, heist-movie double- and triple-crossing, and Spaghetti Western visual and narrative tropes.
Jonathan Majors (Hostiles, Captive State) stars as Nat Love, an outlaw who’s on the verge of going legit until he hears the notorious Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) — the varmint who, years earlier, murdered his family and left him physically and emotionally scarred — has escaped from a prison-bound train with the help of confederates led by “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Oscar winner Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield).
So Love reassembles his own gang — a motley crew that includes the mercurial Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), the cocksure Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), and the formidable Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) — and sets out on a vengeance trail. Also along for the ride: No less a notable than Bass Reeves. Delroy Lindo steals every scene that isn’t bolted the floor as the legendary slave-turned-lawman, effortlessly exuding authority while hardly ever raising his voice. When someone rightly notes that enemies old and new are out to kill him, Lindo’s Reeves impatiently dismisses the threat: “They always seem to die before they get the job done.” As Walter Brennan’s Will Sonnett used to say: No brag. Just fact.