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Larry McMurty’s Streets of Laredo (1995) (TV Mini-series)  rating

Review: written 2008

Bleak but brilliant revisionist Western

 Larry McMurty’s Streets of Laredo (1995) (TV Mini-series)

A long way from the Hollywoodised version of a Lonesome Dove sequel seen in `Return from Lonesome Dove', this is Larry McMurty's riposte to the way the Studio handled that sequel. Where `Return..' dealt with the cattle barons and themes of redemption and wholesome endings, this is a stark and realistic portrayal of the West. Here, the violent men of the burgeoning West are a dying breed (no pun intended) and the sense of a time in history passing is present throughout the whole movie.

Captain Call is now a bounty hunter - past his best, failing eyesight and getting old, but still with his own inherent sense of what's right intact. The movie is a manhunt, for a young Mexican killer - a boy from a good family who was captured by the Apache and ‘was bad’ ever since. For the trip, Call seeks the help of his one-time corporal, Pea Eye, and is joined by a city man who represents the railroad that hires him. The action scenes are short, and for the most part unexpected in both their appearance and their results. The beauty of McMurty's writing is that the whole thing never once fits any of the Western clichés, and convinces throughout with its ring of truth. And yet every character, however small, is drawn as if from life, with details, flaws and occasional moments of glory making sense.

What is also remarkable is that the heart of the movie lies with the women. They are presented as the real heroes of the West - they suffered, they kept to what is right, and they made a life for themselves and their families no matter what life they had come from. Sissy Spacek playing Lorena, personifies this as the ex-prostitute who protects her family and loves her husband with intensity and conviction of one who believes that life can and will be better. It's her best performance in years.

Apart from Spacek, other good performances abound, from Sam Shephards understated Pea Eye, to James Garner's nuanced Captain Call. It's one of those masterclass performances where by never letting us catch him acting, we feel like we know him as the character - and when his face shows near nothing, we are convinced we know what he's thinking.

It's a sad fact that as a TV movie this tends to fall into the sideline of history, but this is a solid piece of intelligently put together film-making which deserves your attention.

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