The Missouri Breaks Arthur Penn

Revisionist westerns were always a strident business, full of grunting, macho theatrics and self-impressed attacks on "corruption." Thus it's nice to come across this thoroughly unhurried redux oater, which though frequently ludicrous is leisurely and relaxed in its unloading of genre grievances. Jack Nicholson plays a cattle rustler whose gang decides to buy a ranch as a way station for their thieving, which makes the local cattle baron rather irate, prompting him to bring in regulator Marlon Brando. Alas, Brando proves to be a nutty sort of sadist and starts embarrassing the pillar of the community with his unorthodox tactics — this on top of earning Nicholson's contempt for slowly wiping out his band of men. One can imagine the forced outrage if this was in the hands of anyone else but the combination of gentle director Arthur Penn with skewed cult novelist Thomas McGuane comes up with something that's a little more savoury than most. Though Brando's character is completely ridiculous (and Brando's Irish brogue just this side of laughable), you put up with the smirking and the gratuitous cross-dressing because it's no longer identified with pure evil. The movie can be best enjoyed as an excuse for the cream of American character actors (Randy Quaid, Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest and others) to have a good time being shaggy and disreputable before being offed by the ridiculous regulator. And though one shouldn't deliberate over the dubious "rustlers are nicer than regular capitalists" guff, the film doesn't bother and neither will you. Better than average cinematography by Michael Butler helps; it's evocative without being showy, just like the movie itself. (MGM/Sony)