Thursday, June 7, 2007

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.

Robert Altman's take on the Western isn't about cowboys and adventure, but rather about the uncertainty of those who settled on the frontier. Beatty plays McCabe, a gambler who decides to open a brothel in a settlement town, and Christie is Mrs. Miller, a former prostitute who becomes his business partner. Beatty's performance is easily his best, loose and funny, but also sad, and Christie projects a coldness which masks deep and untold secrets. Altman sets the film in a cobbled-together little village that bears little resemblance to old-style movie Western storefront towns, and his vision of the West is fresh and bracing, with its characters that come out of the woodwork, whispering rumors and gossip in the background. The weather is a palpable presence in the film, as the story moves from snow into rain and mud and back into snow again, and Leonard Cohen's song score doesn't punch up the story, but instead serves as an emotional commentary.

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