I got a feelin’ like a whipped dog. Someday, I’m gonna bite back.” Throughout his life, Sheriff Wade Whitehouse has been cowed and brutalised by his father, a venomous alcoholic. But a child never forgets a cruelty, and two suspicious deaths in their small New Hampshire town lead inexorably to a cataclysmic confrontation between father and son. Dark, powerful and moving, Paul Schrader’s adaptation of Russell Banks’ novel creates an indelible impression, enhanced by stunning performances from James Coburn and Nick Nolte.
1997 – Certificate: 15 – USA
6.5 out of 10
Apparently Tesco used its Store Defence Grid ground to air missile capability today to shoot down a helicopter in the centre of London, in an effort to deflect the news about its new range of delicious ‘horseburgers’ from the front pages. That’s pretty harsh, even for a business that’s run like Tesco. I can’t imagine Waitrose doing that, or the Co-op. I wouldn’t go shoplifting in Tescos if I was you, its store detectives don’t take prisoners. The way a lot of people appear to have reacted to ‘horseburgergate’ is rather like their reaction to the loss of the so many independent stores from our town centres. They shake their heads in sadness at the loss of diversity in the ‘high street,’ yet use the very shops that are causing the problem. In the same way, they react in horror at the idea of a horseburger, whilst happily chewing up bits of other animals made into disc shapes and given alterniatve names to disguse what they really are. What the fuck? That makes no logical sense at all. Be like the French and just eat everything with a face, at least that’s consistent. Meanwhile, that other destroyer of the high street and leading non-payer of what the tabloids think is a fair level of tax, Amazon, must be pissing itself laughing at the moment, in the week that Play, Blockbuster and HMV all rolled over and died. I went to buy a DVD from it this evening and for some reason they’re all now priced £30 or more. I guess the cost of plastic must have gone up… This is a film that I bought from Amazon, when it was the new kid on the block, the rebel outsider taking on the ‘big boys’.
This movie, despite its good points, I struggled to relate to. I probably need to file it under “too American”. Then again, a film about a son’s relationship with his abusive, alcoholic father is one I’m quite happy to feel I’ve missed out on. (My own father died almost 30 years ago; I wish I could remember more about him. He’s the person who gave me my love of music, even though his tastes and mine weren’t exactly the same; although I do have an inexplicable liking for easy listening, such as James Last, Mantovani, Franck Pourcel, Bert Kaempfert, etc. I still use the turntable he bought in 1969, a Thorens TD-150 Mk II, a wonderful bit of engineering.) This is a thoroughly depressing movie, on nearly every level. Nick Nolte does a great job of making the main character seem a decent guy, despite his failings. James Coburn is brilliant as his father; an evil motherfucker who’s as compelling to watch as he is a total bastard. What an awful character; my heart goes out to all those people who are (or have been) in the position of having someone like that as a father. It’s a shame he doesn’t get more screen time as you’ll really want to boo him and throw stuff at the TV. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role and I can see why. The rest of the film sort of gets lost in a weird narrative that doesn’t quite make sense, as we watch the life of his son, the local sheriff, fall apart. We get to see what happens but we don’t really get inside his head. I never got to fully understand why, after so many years, he suddenly got all weird about things. I’m a sympathetic guy, I wanted to understand his pain, not just watch him bugger up his whole life. He was a really crap police officer though; he should have become a dentist; (it makes sense if you watch the film). As a side issue, I thought his young daughter was a really whiny bitch. Geez, I’m bitter and twisted about everything today!
Recommended for James Coburn.
No cats, chainsaws or decapitations.
Top badass moment? It’s often hard to find a badass moment in a depressing film and this one is no exception. I accept defeat with good grace.