The Searchers

Possibly the best movie made by John Ford with John Wayne, and possibly one of his best stop. Indeed The Searchers, quite probably ranks among the best Westerns ever made, and possibly one of the best, or influential movies ever made. Some might say one of the most controversial also. The acting, cinematography, scrip and plot all come together for a classic

Opening a few years after the close of the American Civil War, where he fought with the Confederacy, Nathan Edwards (John Wayne, She wore a Yellow Ribbon, 1949) returns to the family home, his sword in hand. We are not directly told what he did in those years since the war, but he has a bag of gold, the origins of which are unknown. The homecoming is not without tensions. Some years previously he rescued a young boy from Comanches and left him at the home with Ethan’s brother, effectively the boy is his adoptive nephew. Immediately Nathan remarks how the boy could be mistaken for a half-breed, there is a tension between the two throughout the film, the causes of which can vary from mentor/student, to begrudgery and racism, it is sometimes hard to tell which is which.

While home, news comes through of raids on neighbours homesteads, the local Texas Ranger Captain, Sam Clayton (Ward Bond, Rio Bravo, 1959) calls and asks for help with volunteers to join the search. While out it becomes clear that the raids were a diversion, returning home to the farms, we find the Edwards’s home burnt down, and all dead except the girls, who are missing. The Rangers, after a brief burial service officiated over by Rev. Clayton, go in search of the Comanches in question, they come into contact with suspect Indians but after skirmishes, there are too few Rangers left to be effective. Nathan goes on with his “nephew” Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter, Star Trek, 1986) and his older niece Lucy’s fiancé Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey Jr., Big Jake, 1971), after a while they find Lucy, dead and having been raped, Brad in a fit of anger attacks the Indian settlement and is killed in the process.

As the year progresses, the two are no closer to finding Debbie, they return home to their old neighbours, The Jorgensens (Brad’s parents), here he is given a letter from a trader which might be a clue to Debbie’s whereabouts, here they learn the identity of the Indian who is believed to have Debbie, Scar (Henry Brandon, The War of The Worlds, 1953), a Comanche chief. As the pair travel we learn more about them, The trader who wrote to them originally is killed by Nathan for trying to rob his gold. As they progress they learn an number of Scar’s people have been killed by the Army following an engagement. At this stage our heroes get close to Debbie, where we realise Nathan is more intent on killing his niece rather than rescuing her. She is damaged goods beyond repair. They are unable to get to her. They return home as the light of Martin’s eye is being married to another, and as predicted a fist fight ensues, this is broken by word from the Army (the young Lt. is with Nathan’s old friend Mose Harper (Hank Wardon, The Alamo, 1960) who is “half-crazy). They have found the Indians holding Debbie. Without any other discussion, Nathan leaves for the camp, Martin quickly behind him. The Texas rangers raid the camp, Martin kills scar while Nathan scalps him, once again we see Nathan as a dark figure, guided by his own moral code, as this happens Debbie is fleeing , confused. Nathan chases after her, Martin fearing that Nathan will kill her, chases after them both. As Nathan reaches Debbie, he simply helps her on to his horse and says those famous words “Let’s go home”. The final scene when they arrive home is closed off with that famous closing shot of Wayne walking away through the door.

Beautifully crafted both cinematically and through its script, written by Frank S. Nugent, who was actually Ford’s son-in-law and Alan le May (author of the original book). Watching this today, it is still as fresh as when it was first made. We can also see firsthand the changing attitude of society, not just with the 19th century but with the mid-20th century and today. Within a few short years the way the Native American Indians are portrayed is changed forever, no longer are they the stock-in-trade bad guys.

This is a short enough review, it could be a lot shorter – Excellent movie, one of the best ever made, involving the search for an young girl and the individuals own search for themselves and their values.

Locke

One might ask if this movie is an entertainment production or something meant to resemble an art work. Directed by Steven Knight, it is quite different to his last directorial effort (Redemption 2013) but still retains that sense of movement and edge. Starring Tom Hardy (Lawless 2012) as the eponymous “Locke”.

Set on the road to his destination, we are given a movie of Tom Hardy behind the wheel dealing with the consequences of his actions. It opens as he is juggling a number of phone calls to his home, work and contacts. Whatever is going on, he seems to be turning his back on a number of responsibilities, both at home and at work. We quickly learn that there is a major construction job underway with what turns out to be the biggest concrete pouring in Europe due in the coming hours, he should be supervising it, instead he is leaving it to one of his men. We see that he is also bailing on his son, not watching the big-match with him.

Locke has made decisions and now he needs to deal with them, he needs to live with them. he is about to have child, but the mother is not his wife. What we see is a man “on the edge”, possibly both figuratively, as much of the film is him trying to control his life and events surrounding him, while at the same time shot completely in the car, with only occasional changes of view to allow the viewer to survive, we watch him correct a mistake, one which cannot really be dealt with in isolation. The use of the car and the phone show how events, though seemingly not connected are often impacted by each other, purely because of the slightest connection, the slightest common denominator, Locke.

If you’ve seen Hardy in works such as Lawless (John Hillcoat, 2012) or Bronson (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2008) or even the current Peaky Blinders on TV which was created by Steven Knight you will know he is a very physical actor, he is also an actor who has learned to use his body, his face, to control the character, to communicate the message and emotion of the scene. There is a scene in Peaky Blinders where new recruits to the criminal enterprise are being briefed, one makes a joke he should not have, Hardy disciplines him by seriously injuring the person standing next to him and them giving a sermon on discipline, you could feel the menace.

From the calls we learn that Locke, is not just some employee, he should be central ot the work being carried out on the site, we hear from his instructions that he knows what he is talking about, indeed it is this very knowledge and the advice he is giving to his junior that tell us just how much he should not be in the car to London right now. Without ever leaving the front seat he brings us in to his life. We could argue that the car is a metaphor, some kind. He and his life are going somewhere at speed, it is not somewhere that he planned to go, but it is something he must do. Just as in life he is trapped by his decisions, so too is he in the car, he is stuck behind the wheel, controlling the journey, on the phone trying to control life.

We can compare this film to recent efforts such as All is Lost (J.C. Chandor, 2013) or Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, I’d go with Buried. This film has been described as a “Dramatic thriller” or just a “thriller”. We might say it is neither, perhaps more one-man melodrama, but personally I would describe it as a thriller, in so far there is an ending, we don’t know what it is but we are along with Locke to see what it is. The use of the car is an interesting tool because it allows Knight to give us an ever changing back-drop, one against which he can display the mental tribulations he is going through. The phone conversations not only tell the story but also allow for his reaction, they are also the story.

This is not a movie about doing the right or wrong thing, this is a movie about consequences, having done wrong, he is now trying to do right. What is more shocking is that to one of his interlocutors on the phone, he is “the last person in the world” who would have been expected to do what he did. We see his integrity trying to fight through. Yes he did wrong, “only once” but the once is the key part, what comes before that once, means nothing, what comes after are the consequences. One might also suggest the building site he is leaving at a critical time is analogous to his family, again he is leaving them to be elsewhere. He talks about foundations of the building and projects he has worked on, his family also needs foundations and he may have undermined those foundations.

I recently gave an opinion on “Under The Skin”, this is also something similar, both movies are tightly focused on one person, every other person or conversation is there to add to the vision of what we see concerning that key character. Both are possibly in alien lands, with little introduction or understanding of them, we the viewer is required to learn as we progress and to judge, are these good or bad people (if you can call Scarlett Johansson’s character a person). We do however get a glimpse of the influences behind the man with his discussions with his late father. This mental exercise, carried-on out loud for us again shows how he is trying to do the right thing and balancing his moral compass through his experiences with his own father.

It is only fair to credit Haris Zambarloukos (Thor, God of Thunder, 2011) who is generally regarded as one of the top practitioners of his art. It cannot be east to work to create a movie scape which keeps us for the best part of 90minutes when you have only one subject. Zambarloukos does this, his focus on hardy, not just from the front but also side on are perfect, as to are outr glimpses of the world go by, whether it is industrial plants or even the row of lights trailing in to the past.

This is a movie for adults, in so far as the content and style will not keep kids or people with an attention span less than 5 minutes.

This is a solid 3 star.