Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, John Russell, Richard Dysart, Chris Penn
When a band of riders comes through the small mining community of Lahood, they leave the small encampment in ruins. Hired by the landowner Coy Lahood (Dysart), the men are hoping to drive the miners and their families from the land. Despite several deaths, the miners band together behind the leadership of Hull Barret (Moriarty). Barret is determined to stay and work his claim, with the hopes of striking it rich. When Lahood’s men assault Hull, a stranger (Eastwood) steps in to defend him. This stranger a mysterious preacher, and he’s willing to help the miners fight for their claims.
After the financial and critical disaster that was 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, the Hollywood studios were more than hesitant to put money into a Western. Fortunately, the studios took a chance on Pale Rider. The story was written by Michael Butler (Brannigan) and Dennis Shryack (Turner & Hooch). Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) took on the title role and the job of director. The cast includes Michael Moriarty (Courage Under Fire), Carrie Snodgress (Diary of a Mad Housewife), and John Russell (Rio Bravo). Chris Penn (Footloose) and Richard Dysart (Wall Street) are also featured in the film.
This story is a wonderfully simple approach to the Western genre. It echoes the themes played out in films going back to Shane and more recently, High Plains Drifter. Without giving too much away, the Preacher becomes the perfect hero, flawed and seeking redemption. Thankfully, the limited dialogue allows the story to play out nicely, without finding a need to explain everything. Unlike High Plains Drifter, this film even avoids the flashbacks used to explain the characters. Instead, like Shane, the movie only gives you a small glimpse into the lives of the people, allowing the story to stand on its own. From the characters to the action, this screenplay does everything it needs to do.
The acting in this movie is pretty good. Eastwood does his thing, playing the strong silent defender. Opposite him, Michael Moriarty does a great job as the outspoken leader of the mining camp. Carrie Snodgress is also really good in this one. She portrays her character with an inner strength that really helps give the movie some emotional depth. John Russell, Richard Dysart, and Chris Penn all add to the film with nice performances of their own. Overall, the movie features a nice cast that work well with the material. Several of the lesser supporting roles come off as a bit hokey, but nothing that affects the film as a whole.
The movie features wonderful visuals thanks to the locations chosen to film at. The movie was filmed partly in Idaho, as well as the town of Columbia, California. With the Sawtooth Mountains serving as a backdrop, the movie looks incredible. The sets, costumes, and other visual aspects of the film are also nicely done. Additionally, the score works nicely with the visuals as well. Longtime Eastwood collaborator, composer Lennie Niehaus put together music that accents the film nicely, without ever hurting the pacing or the feel of the movie.
Overall, this is a simple and direct movie that hits almost every chord perfectly. At the time, this film helped to resurrect the genre with Hollywood. In addition to being a financial success, critics loved it as well. Critic Roger Ebert gave this one four out of four stars. Fans of Eastwood should make sure to check this one out. I would also suggest this to fans of Westerns in general. The themes are classic and play out perfectly throughout the film. I give this one 4.6 out of 5 stars.