Once, a long time ago, in the great and glorious decade of the 1990's, a very bright fellow by the name of Tommy Lee Jones adapted one of the great western author Elmer Kelton's most beloved novels into a movie. He also played the lead role himself, and it was released on television and it was really, really good, and now twenty years later nobody seems to remember it.
This is the best underrated western EVER.
In the first place, the original novel The Good Old Boys by Elmer Kelton is great. Mr. Kelton, I like you a lot. A simple little story about a wandering cowboy and his struggles of trying to figure out where he fits, this book is nevertheless really profound. It's also symbolic. Hewey Calloway represents the old way of life in the West, and his difficulty in taking responsibilities and adjusting to the 'modern world' is characteristic of many in his day. (And even in this day, too, come to think of it.) Hewey can't seem to just stay put. He's a drifter by nature, and he's used to being on the move. Once a drifter, always a drifter, ya know.
This is one of those westerns that's just really fun. I bet Tommy Lee Jones had an absolute blast making this. It's a bunch of fun to watch -- especially if you're sick on the couch with a sore throat and you're in dire need of some western goodness to lift your spirits. Highly recommended.
(Note: I cannot find any pictures from this movie on the internet -- no, seriously -- so this is gonna be a picture-free review. I'll trust y'all to conjure up your own visuals.)
After many years of adventuring on his own across the West, Hewey Calloway comes back to his brother's Texas farm to find that his family's financial situation isn't too pretty. Feeling he ought to help them out a little (and also because his scary sister-in-law more or less demands it) he stays awhile, and happens to form an attachment to the pretty schoolteacher in town, Miss Spring Renfro (played by Sissy Spacek.) When the bank threatens to foreclose on the Calloway's farm and Hewey's brother breaks his leg in an incident instigated by one of Hewey's old friends, he feels even more duty-bound to stay and make things right. Throughout the course of the movie he struggles with the choice of putting down roots versus his natural urge to live free and easy out on the trail.
Now, doesn't that sound like a good ol' story?
I love Tommy Lee Jones. Tommy Lee Jones is a genius. Just the fact that he can play a character like Hewey Calloway as well as a character like Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove so brilliantly when they're such different personalities is a testament to his versatility as an actor. One of the things I greatly enjoy about this movie is that Tommy Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek play opposite each other, because I LOVE LOVE LOVED them in The Coal Miner's Daughter, and it's fun to see them together as two completely different people.
Speaking of Spring Renfro, she's a darling. She comes from the east ("well, East Texas") and has sightly more refined manners, but she's hardy and has a delightful wit. The little romance between her and Hewey is Adorable with a capital A, partly because they're both so durn cute but also because it's so unconventional, the way their attraction works. They're neither of them very young, and they have next to nothing in common, yet they share a common bond of affection. Yup, I'm a Hewey/Spring shipper. I do like how the story ends...but still, I wish Hewey would come riding back someday and sweep Spring away to her own little house on the plains, like she wanted.
Hewey's brother Walter is a kind fellow. Walter's wife Eve is TERRIFYING. That is, she's got a strong temper and she won't hesitate to use it on you if she thinks you would benefit from it. You don't want to cross Eve. Eve will give it to you, big-time. Eve ain't havin' none of it. It's actually pretty hilarious how mad she gets about things. I love it when Hewey takes the two boys with him for a few days, and Eve runs after them, shouting, "Hewey Calloway, you get back here!" It's like, Eve, calm down, lady. Deep breath.
Walter and Eve have two boys, Tommy and Cotton, and Tommy is nice enough but Cotton is played by Matt Damon and he looks about eighteen years old, so....yeah. ;-) Cotton doesn't want to be a farmer. He likes working on machines and he loves cars, and he dreams of someday being a mechanic in a big city. Cotton's a dreamer, and he's also Matt Damon, so I really like him. In fact I like Cotton Calloway so much, I named my first baby boy bunny (wow, how about that for an alliteration) after him:
Another fun character is Hewey's old friend, Snort Yarnell. First of all, let's take a minute to appreciate this name. Well done, Elmer Kelton. I can't think of a better name for a good old roaming cowboy. And that's what Snort is; he's also a loafer, a gambler, and a troublemaker. But he's a lot of fun too.
The characters have such a wholesome charm to them, and the way they talk with each other...well, these are some quotable characters, I'll just say that. You have to watch it. You also should read it, if you're a fan of western novels, cuz it's one of the most delightful I've ever read. The movie follows the book extremely well too, which gives it even more points in my book. (Tommy Lee Jones gets a pat on the back.)
For a western, it's mild. There's little to no gunplay, there are no Indian massacres or buffalo stampedes or stagecoach robberies. If you don't normally like westerns but you like good movies about quirky people, you'd probably like it. My sister, who doesn't like westerns, says she can handle this one. ;-) Personally, I think it's wonderful. The acting, the setting, the characters are all good. There's drama, and humor, and a proper dose of the Feels (for all you feelsy-feels people -- looking at you, Olivia) and best of all, it makes you smile. At least, it makes me smile. I hope it does for you too. :-)
"Button, I ain't never been killed in my life."