It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Howard Hawks didn’t direct a film for four years after the failure of his "Land of the Pharaohs" in 1955. He thought maybe he had lost it. When he came back to work on "Rio Bravo" in 1958, he was 62 years old, would be working on his 41st film and was so nervous on the first day of shooting that he stood behind a set and vomited. Then he walked out and directed a masterpiece.
To watch "Rio Bravo" is to see a master craftsman at work. The film is seamless. There is not a shot that is wrong. It is uncommonly absorbing, and the 141-minute running time flows past like running water. It contains one of John Wayne’s best performances. It has surprisingly warm romantic chemistry between Wayne and Angie Dickinson. Dean Martin is touching. Ricky Nelson, then a rival of Elvis’ and with a pompadour that would have been laughed out of the Old West, improbably works in the role of a kid gunslinger. Old Walter Brennan, as the peg-legged deputy, provides comic support that never oversteps.
Wayne and the other men and the gambling lady inhabit a town that is populous and even crowded, but not a single citizen, except for an early victim, a friendly hotel owner and his wife and of course the villain, ever says a word to them. The shadows are filled with hired killers with $50 gold pieces in their pockets — "the price of a human life." All that buys Wayne and his deputies a stay of execution is the prisoner they precariously hold as a hostage. In a film with suspenseful standoffs and looming peril, even a scene where Wayne and Martin walk down Main Street after nightfall is frightening.
The story situation was fashioned by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, two veterans who wrote Hawks’ great film "The Big Sleep" (1946). It centers on four men holed up inside a sheriff’s office: a seasoned lawman, a drunk, an old coot and a kid. This formula would prove so resilient that Hawks would remake it in "El Dorado" (1966), John Carpenter would remake it as "Assault on Precinct 13" (1976) and directors from Scorsese to Tarantino to Stone would directly reference it. It is a Western with all of the artifice of the genre, but the characters and their connections take on a curious reality; within this closed system, their relationships have a psychological plausibility.