It’s not as gritty as the classics, but Gunless puts a clever spin on the old West.
Canadian take on western genre has fun playing with clichés
A horse rides into town with a mud-covered outlaw tied to its back. It’s not a joke, but it is the setup for Gunless , the new, Canadianized western comedy from director William Phillips. The outlaw in question is the Montana Kid, a long-haired, filthy Paul Gross, and the town is Barclay’s Brush, a fictionalized hamlet just north of the U.S. border. In a typical cinematic misunderstanding, the town blacksmith and gentle giant, Jack (Tyler Main), insults the Kid who in turn, “calls him out” for a showdown. The problem is, nobody in Barclay’s Brush has a handgun suitable for a good old-fashioned duel. There are shotguns and rifles aplenty, of course, but not a single functional Colt 45. Luckily, Jane (Sienna Guillory), the town’s anything-but-plain British farm widow, has a rusty broken revolver and offers a deal: “Fix my busted windmill and the gun’s yours.”
While the Kid repairs the gun and the windmill to get his duel, romance blossoms and the mild-mannered, all-too-polite Canadian townsfolk revel in the novelty of having a real-live American outlaw in their midst. There’s a red-suited Mountie (Dustin Milligan), a native guide (Graham Green, wouldn’t you know), a band of Chinese railway labourers, an idealistic young schoolteacher and a crusty old doctor-slash-taxidermist. All the while, a posse led by a nasty one-eared bounty hunter (Callum Keith Rennie) rides in slow motion toward its quarry and the inevitable gunfight finale.
Gunless has a lot in its favour, with strong performances all around, a Blue Rodeo soundtrack and a fun, slightly silly premise. The script hits all the elements essential to a classic western and twists and pokes fun at them at the same time, all the while vamping on American and Canadian stereotypes. However, it lacks the grit, danger and mortal struggle that made the classic westerns classic. Yes, it’s a comedy and a fun one at that, but the lack of depth and substance leaves you with all the satisfaction and aftertaste of a Tim Horton’s doughnut. This would be a treat on any airplane or a fine TV movie, but it’s hard to imagine how it will compete in a box office dominated by shallow epics, big-budget blockbusters and 3D extravaganzas.