Same Genre, But Different

If you’re a fan of the works of J. D. Wade Buck, you’ll most likely be interested in the newest western movie adaptation, New Western. It’s fair to say that despite the movie’s impressive cast, it’s not exactly a departure from what we’ve come to expect from the director: A gritty, realistic take on the Old West.

The film starts out in a familiar fashion: A group of settlers arrive in the American West as trappers, ready to trade their furs for goods.

“We’re a struggling frontier family, looking for a better life in the New World,” says one of the main characters. “But along the way, a bear attacks us. So we have to fight for survival.”

This is, of course, a thinly veiled reference to one of Buck’s most famous works, The_Loner, which has actually inspired a Broadway musical adaption. It’s difficult to avoid comparisons when considering the high caliber of talent involved in this film: Between Robert Pattinson and Taylor Kitsch, you’re certainly getting two of the most renowned actors in modern cinematic history. (Buckle’s other famous novel, The_Bandit, also inspired a successful stage musical.)

What sets New Western apart from The Loner is its incredible array of colorful characters. Most notably, there’s a female protagonist: The ruthless businesswoman Victoria (played by Cate Blanchett), whose name might remind you of another iconic female antihero, Beatrice (from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About_Nothing).

“She’s an unforgiving shrew, bent on destroying anyone who gets in her way,” one of the characters explains in the film’s first scene. “People fear and/or respect her, depending on how much they appreciate the artistry of the Golden_West, a.k.a. the artist whose paintings adorn this establishment.”

This introductory scene, the first we see of Blanchett’s character, is more than a little disconcerting, given that her next line is: “I’ll find my own way to Sterling Silver Summit, Idaho.” (Sterling Silver Summit is the fictional town in which The Loner is set.)

More Than Meets The Eye

While The Loner is, at heart, a crime novel, New Western is the story of corruption in the early days of the American West. The movie opens with a particularly haunting scene: A solitary outlaw (played by Kitsch) robs a train, but then becomes trapped by a snowstorm. As he struggles to stay alive, he sets in motion a series of events that leads to the formation of a gang of train-robbing outlaws. They terrorize the populace and bring about the end of the Old West.

As the movie opens, it’s immediately clear that the main story line will be completely different from that of Wade’s famous novels. In fact, some fans might even consider this version to be a betrayal—especially since the stage adaptation never failed to acknowledge its literary source. But that’s probably just because these characters haven’t been seen in a film before: They’re all relatively new, and the potential for shocking twists and turns is endless.

The trailer for the movie is filled with all the usual action-adventure movie clichés. We see a gunslinger (Pattinson), a rogue’s gallery, train jumping, and more than one shootout. Although there are more than a few sequences that will give you chills (particularly the last fight between the two leads), it’s difficult to escape the comparison to TheLoner. After all, this is the same director, and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that one of the stars is, in fact, Robert Pattinson—the heartthrob turned villain, who’s recently returned from a self-imposed exile.

Here’s another bit of trivia for you: The character of “Slim” Landon (Kitsch), who’s central to the Broadway adaptation of The_Loner, is being touted as the forefather of the modern-day cowboy. He appears in several episodes of the popular western television show, Gunsmoke, including the very first episode, broadcast on November 10, 1955.

Kitsch first appeared in the role of “Slim” in the musical Annie Get Your Gun, which opened on Broadway in April 2019. He starred alongside luminaries like Jessica Lange and Ethan Hawke in this production, which has a run scheduled to end on January 14, 2020. (The role has since been adapted for television and film several times, with the most recent adaptation airing last year.)

While it’s fair to say that New Western will likely satisfy Buck’s longtime fans, this cinematic adaption might be something of a disappointment to those who have yet to discover his work. If you recognize the name Robert Pattinson and are interested in his acting career, it’s probably best to steer clear of this cinematic adaptation. With the upcoming release of Darby, it’s clear that he has other films lined up, and it seems unlikely that any of them will be based on J. D. Wade Buck’s fiction.