It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Hearts of the West" is a lovely little comedy, a movie to feel fond of. It's about a farm kid who sends away for a correspondence school course on how to be a cowboy and runs away to a godforsaken crossroads in Nevada because he wants to "hang around the campus." Well, there isn't any -- just a couple of con men operating out of a post office box. They try to roll the kid, he escapes into the desert and the next morning he's rescued by a posse of real cowboys.
Real movie cowboys, that is. It's during the Depression, the early days of the talkies, and they're grinding out horse operas in quiet desperation. There's no glamor here: Tumbleweed Productions is a fly-by-night outfit with a line of credit for a budget, and the producer bargains with his cowboys about stunts. "For crashing through that window and running across the porch roof and jumping onto that horse I'll pay $7.50," he says. A sullen silence. "How about $8.50? That's my final offer."
The kid hitches a ride into Los Angeles with the movie company, catches the eye of the cute little production secretary and hangs around trying to get work as an extra. He does, thanks to her. He almost gets fired during his first day on the set, when he leaps from behind some rocks, fires wildly and dies so dramatically that the hero is left gaping. But he redeems himself by doing the stunt where he jumps on the horse. He's so dumb he does it for free. He's also so dumb he does it without an athletic supporter. Gulp.
The kid, all earnest and engaging, is played by Jeff Bridges, that open faced young actor from "The Last Picture Show" and "Fat City." He brings a nice complexity to the role: He's Lewis Tater ("Did you say Taylor?" "No -- Tater"), fresh off the farm and totally naive. But he's got pluck, and he's determined to survive in the Hollywood jungle.