Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Dead Man’s Walk – Real Heroes in the Real West

Written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
Directed by Yves Simoneau

I was a late bloomer when it came to appreciating the western genre in films. The first story I ever truly enjoyed in the genre was Lonesome Dove. The two sequels which followed just weren’t as good, in my opinion. However, all of that changed with Dead Man’s Walk. Right from the beginning, it feels like it’s getting back to the spirit I remembered from Lonesome Dove.

The two main characters are the men central to Lonesome Dove, at a much younger age. Gus McCrae (portrayed by David Arquette) and Woodrow Call (portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller) are just starting out as Texas Rangers and are assigned to help hunt down Indians who are plaguing the fledgling Republic. These Indians are led by the much-feared and revered Buffalo Hump (portrayed by Eric Schweig).

When an opportunity presents itself to the two men to go on an expedition to take Santa Fe from Mexico, Gus goes about convincing Call to go with him. By far, these are not the two crusty, seemingly fearless men I knew in Lonesome Dove. Gus craves adventure while Call is more cautious and hesitant. Prior to their departure for Santa Fe, Gus first meets Clara (portrayed by Jennifer Garner) and it is love at first sight.

The journey to Santa Fe does not accomplish what they set out to do. Traveling with Bigfoot Wallach (portrayed by Keith Carradine) and Shadrach (portrayed by Harry Dean Stanton), they are eventually sold out to the Mexican army by the leader of the expedition, but not after almost starving to death, suffering a bear attack, being attacked by Indians, and more.

The title comes from the passage between Austin, Texas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico by the Spanish. It was quite treacherous with little water to begin with. Add to that the threat from the Native Americans and it was already difficult for the Spanish to deal with. Put a bunch of whites on a mission, sure they will succeed for whatever reason, and you have the makings of a disaster.

The DVD is just amazing to watch. Not only is the scenery gorgeous, but the grittiness of the story is told with an eye to the truth of what western life was like, rather than the way it has been romanticized in so many other western pictures. The characters that surround Gus and Call are all realistic; they are “heroes” while at the same time having feet of clay at times. You can root all you want for certain people to survive, but there’s no guarantee as there was in western pictures of yore that the guy in the white hat will make it at the end. At the same time, since I knew Gus and Call would survive, it was interesting to see how that would happen. Knowing the outcome for their characters didn’t take away from Dead Man’s Walk in the least.

One of the best characters that I loved was that of Mattie (portrayed by Patricia Childress). Although she is a prostitute, she has as much character as the men around her. She is brave and courageous in the face of a hell of a lot of adversity. At the same time, she is capable of deep love and commitment to one person as she eventually connects with a member of the expedition.

David Arquette is great. He’s not quite the cocky Gus that Robert Duvall portrays in his later years, but he seems to capture the same essence of Gus that I could see the character evolving from this point into the Gus of later years. Likewise, Jonny Lee Miller also is believable as the young Call, although there were a few points where I found his story to be a bit forced, such as when he encounters the young woman we are led to believe will be Newt’s mother in the future. By all accounts in Lonesome Dove she was someone he knew in that town, not someone who he had known for some time. Still, this is not the fault of Miller who seems to have studied Tommy Lee Jones to get certain mannerisms and gestures down pat so the characters really seem to flow together from decades apart.

If you like the western genre, Dead Man’s Walk is not lighthearted, but gritty and real. It’s quite violent and shocking at times but that’s more in tune with the way the frontier really was. It might be long for some people to sit through, but it’s broken up into two DVDs and there are points along the way to stop and pick up again at another time. I watched it on two nights and couldn’t wait to see how the story resolved itself. For those just thinking about venturing into this area, I would recommend starting with Lonesome Dove first.


” Hallmark Trailer
” Behind The Scenes