We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
There’s this thing for rodeo movies all of a sudden. Mostly they seem to have the same plot - the veteran rodeo star making his comeback against the meanest bull on the circuit. They have the same visual feeling, too, with lots of dusty roads and pickup trucks and rodeo footage cleverly edited to make it took like the star is really there in the arena. So our only choice is which rodeo cowboy we want to see.
There was Cliff Robertson in “J. W. Coop,” and then James Coburn in “The Honkers,” and now Steve McQueen in “Junior Bonner.” Of the three, “Junior Bonner” has the most distinguished director: Sam Peckinpah, who has led previous excursions into the West in “The Wild Bunch,” “Ride the High Country” and “The Ballad of Cable Hogue.” The first two rodeo movies were directorial debuts by actors: Robertson himself and the late Steve Ihnat.
The surprising thing is that Peckinpah comes off so badly in this company. The best of the rodeo films so far is, clear and away, “J. W. Coop.” It also does the best job of getting inside its rodeo cowboy, instead of just plastering him over with all kinds of prefab plot devices. J. W. Coop was a man just out of prison, who had kept in shape with the prison rodeo and was now trying to make a modest comeback. As played by Robertson, and as surrounded by a crowd of ordinary rodeo people, he was a person whose hungers we could understand even if we didn’t give a damn about the rodeo.
“The Honkers” was more conventional and was padded out at excessive length by too many soft-focus lyrical interludes with dumb songs. Still, there was Lois Nettleton as Coburn’s strong and yet suffering wife, and Slim Pickens in a really fine character performance as Coburn’s oldest friend.