SYRFILM 09 screens

Led by hotel owner Abner Raines (Tom Bower), a trio of city fathers hire Cole and Hitch after two of Bragg's louts accost a Chicago businessman who's come to re-open the mine, murder him and rape his wife; Bragg murders the marshall when he tries to arrest them. Hitch and Cole settle in, the latter smitten by Mrs. French. Hitch passes time with a bar girl (the excellent Spaniard Ariadna Gil, who I wish had gotten a heftier role as Katie).

In a fairly traditional working-out of plot, Cole and Hitch catch Bragg. He's convicted, escapes, is caught again and eventually returns to town - pardoned by connections in high places back East - to set himself up as new owner of the town hotel-casino. These circumstances serve as the means for Hitch and Cole to work out their relationship and that which each has with Mrs. French, some of which centers around whether Hitch made a pass at her or vice versa.

Less traditional is that the promise of Hitch's first glimpse of "Allie -- she likes to be called Allie" does not play out in the usual way; Hitch wastes little time getting clear that pursuit of Mrs. French is not a good idea. But that lovely first glimpse means he has great empathy for the effect she has on Cole -- enough to ask Cole at one point a most unusual question among men in a Western, "Are you alright -- how do you feel?"

What is satisfying about this film is its more nuanced comment on American life than might have been the case. Ever the reliable measure and mirror of our national mood, the Western has enjoyed a come-back in the new millennium's first decade of terrorism, "ungoverned spaces," nation-building and our deep recoil at our own violent behavior. Hence such rich successes as David Milch's "Deadwood" and the Cohen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," for example. The Western has both offered enough distance to work out how we feel about current conflicts abroad and related policies at home, and a ready slate for the reinvention and escape from history that frontiers promise. As a form, the Western often straddles a line between the two.

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