In the opening scenes of Gunless, a horse trots into what appears to be a tiny western town. Atop the horse is an unconscious man, slumped backwards in the saddle with a noose around his neck attached to a large tree branch that drags along behind them. An iconic Western opening if ever there was one. Reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter or Hang ‘em High. However, things soon begin to stray from formula when we realize that this tiny town is actually in “The Dominion of Canada” and the man turns out to be the Montana Kid, a notorious American gunfighter.
The ‘Kid’ is soon helped out by a polite bunch of Canadians, and before you can say “American stereotype” he has tried to start a gunfight with the kind local blacksmith. The reason? Why, the blacksmith had the gall to shoe the Kid’s horse. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you are the blacksmith) he has no gun and therefore, according to the code of the West, can’t be shot. The solution? Why, the Kid will get the blacksmith a gun. But since this is Canada, there are no guns in the area, except for a broken antique owned by the local Brit-accented hottie widow.
So, with this lame excuse to stick around town until the gun is fixed and the duel can proceed, the Kid gets to know the residents of the town and, as a small child could predict, begins to warm to these quirky, non-violent people. Soon he begins to question his violent ways and considers how to atone for the actions in his past.
After many scenes that seem to end with the Kid muttering, “What is wrong with these people” the posse arrives. This serves two purposes: the first is to provide the obligatory violence required in all Westerns, and the second is to show that the Kid really isn’t that bad compared to these guys.
The Kid is played by Canadian stalwart Paul Gross, who some will remember from the television show Due South. He plays the role with gusto, speaking every line with sardonic gruffness, though there are some odd decisions regarding his look. Gross has boyish good looks, and making the choice of putting him under a long mane of black hair sometimes comes off more Tarzan than Eastwood.
The rest of the cast is given far less to work with, but manage to come off fairly well. Where they could have played like an ensemble from a Canadian sitcom, they instead mine some genuine humor from the proceedings.
The whole movie basically trundles along in a safe and predictable fashion until the posse arrives, led by the great Callum Keith Rennie. Given almost nothing to work with except for a mangled ear (a reminder of an earlier entanglement with the Montana Kid), Rennie energizes the film every time he’s on screen. Too bad that’s a rare occurrence.
Horror fans will also be delighted to see Tyler Mane (Michael Myers from Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies) in an actual speaking role as the town blacksmith.
The film’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Sometimes it feels like a comedy, with quirky characters spouting humorous dialogue, and then, moments later, it feels like a lite version of Unforgiven, with characters philosophizing about the nature of guns and Callum Keith Rennie shooting some kid’s dog. Unfortunately, neither works. As a comedy it is too predictable and safe, full of tired stereotypes, with no sign of edge anywhere. And as a drama it plays too light to give any weight to its subject. As a fan of Westerns and as a Canadian, I can’t help but think how good this could have been as either.
Gunless is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and is a pretty good-looking movie. The palette is bright and colorful, with lots of blue sky and sweeping mountain vistas to look at. In fact, the locations are one of the film’s high points and sometimes evoke the films of John Ford. Everything is clear and well lit, even indoor scenes and scenes at night are clear, with no muddy images.
The audio for Gunless is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, with English and French tracks to choose from. The audio is well recorded, with very clear dialogue and sound effects. The music track is also very nice, recorded by the Canadian band Blue Rodeo, with clear vocals and lots of acoustic guitar. There is nothing showy in the audio to really show off your fancy home theatre, with virtually no use of the rear channels, but the overall result is still quite pleasing.
Automatic Trailers: The American, The Backup Plan, The Trotsky
The rest of the features are basically one long featurette, broken up into several chapters.
Behind the Scenes (23:41): The main featurette on the making of the movie.
Construction Design (9:24): A short featurette basically about how amazing the buildings in the movie are.
Dance Hall (3:33): Another short featurette, this one about the film’s big dance scene.
Guns of Gunless (7:39): Another featurette. This one is about the film’s climactic gunfight.
The Good, The Bad, and the Canadians (10:23): The final featurette, this one is sort of about the supporting cast, but doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anyone being Canadian.
Though it’s nice to see Canadian filmmakers shooting for some light populist fare like this, it’s unfortunate that it misses being as good as it might have been. For fans of the genre (or fans of Paul Gross), this might be worth a purchase. For anyone else, if you’re in the mood for something airy and mildly funny, this is a decent choice for a rental. One warning, however: the film is entirely suitable, even desirable, for family viewing, but there are two caveats to be aware of. The first is the aforementioned shooting of the kid’s dog, which may be disturbing to some kids (and some adults), even though it happens off screen. The second is that during the closing credits, several production bloopers are played, an increasingly popular trend in recent comedies. However, though the language in the actual movie is entirely G-rated, in these bloopers the actors let the F-bombs fly.