VOD film review: The Shooting (1966)
James R | On 06, Nov 2021
Director: Monte Hellman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Warren Oates, Millie Perkins, Will Hutchins
Where to watch The Shooting online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
“I pretty much believe she means to kill someone,” remarks Willet Gashade (Warren Oates) early on in The Shooting, and that blunt simplicity, mixed with vague speculation and an unknown feeling of dread, gets right to the heart of what makes the Western such a remarkable entry in the genre.
Directed by Monte Hellman, the 1966 thriller boils down the Western to its key components: cowboys, guns, horses, isolation and distrust. Stripping away the gloss and glamour, it undoes the myth of the Old West – the cowboys who ride out on a perilous journey here aren’t cool or even clued up, bringing with them only confusion, dust, a whiff of sunburn and the looming likelihood of death.
Gashade (Oates) is ostensibly the smart one of the pair, joined by his sidekick Coley (Will Hutchins), but both are on the back food when they agree to be hired by a woman (Millie Perkins) to accompany and guide her through the desert. Where is she going? She won’t say. Why is she going there? She doesn’t explain. What’s her name? She refuses to reveal.
Perkins plays her femme fatale role with an electric air of enigma, and a large part of the fun is just seeing the effect she has on both mean, even as Warren Oates’ old hand claims not to be so easily manoeuvred by her as Hutchins’ impressionably young Coley. But it’s when the trio are joined by a fourth figure that the tension really begins to climb. That would be Billy Spear, a gunslinger played with menacing relish by a young Jack Nicholson.
Nicholson rides into the frame with an unsettling grin, only adding more questions rather than offering answers. He’s wearing black, which suggests he’s the villain of the piece, but The Shooting’s excitement stems from how easily it plays into and shrugs off such conventions. From the terse dialogue and bold use of slow-motion to Hellman’s tight close-ups that foreground human fragility over the expansiveness of the West, this is more French New Wave than Wild West, its 1960s uncertainty sitting somewhere between a sun-bleached noir and a play by Beckett.
The script, by Carole Eastman (Five Easy Pieces), is steeped in paranoia, which erupts in short bursts of violence that carry an added note of mortality. The result is an acid Western that remains refreshingly unusual, right down to its 80-minute runtime, but whose influence lives on even today in the abstracted cat-and-mouse pursuit of Seraphim Falls and the existential eccentricities of The Sisters Brothers. A unique Western that, several decades on, still feels bracingly modern.
The Shooting is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.