A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST Is A Mixed Saddlebag
Albert (Seth McFarlane) is a meek sheep farmer who loses his love Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to a local dandy Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) who also happens to be wildly succesful as the owner of the local “moustachery”, as well as a lethal shot with a six-shooter.
Things start turning around with the arrival of the mysterious and beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron), who befriends the shamed Albert, and poses as his new girlfriend to help ease the embarrassment Albert is constantly subjected to by the smarmy, condescending, and bullying Foy.
With a mouth that writes checks his ass may not be able to cash, Albert challenges Foy to a duel. With a week to go, Anna, who turns out to be a damned fine shot herself, gets Albert up to speed in the art of gun-fighting.
Cheered on and supported by his two other local friends, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), and his beloved whore girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) is set to rise to the occasion. Then, Anna’s criminal outlaw husband Clinch (Liam Neeson) shows up to reclaim what’s his…namely, Anna.
So here we have a pretty classic Louis L’Amour-esque framework, which writer/director/star McFarlane then subverts with extremely graphic dirty humor, and jokes pointed at the tropes of classic westerns. Does it work? A lot of the time yes, sometimes no. The first half is exceptionally crude, and a little incongruit with the more fun-loving side of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. The film works best, surprisingly, when it’s laying things absolutely straight, and McFarlane and his DP Michael Barrett (TED, KISS KISS BANG BANG) deserve applause for absolutely nailing the painted skies and wide open spaces look of old John Ford westerns. The more sensitive scenes, particularly one with Albert and Anna bonding while watching the sun set over the prarie, were the strong point of the film for me. In the second half, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST seems to jettison the overt vulgar humor, and take itself more seriously as an actual western film.
I’m not a huge FAMILY GUY fan, but I liked McFarlane’s feature debut TED quite a bit, and when he leaves the shock talk behind is when he tends to be strongest in my opinion. His nice guy side is endearing and genuine, and this is where he shines. Especially in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.
The supporting cast is top notch, but maybe a little wasted at times. Ribisi and SIlverman seem to be there only to utter words like “penis”, “anus”, and to facilitate the grody side of the films humor. Meh. But Theron is wonderful as the kind-hearted Anna, an ex-tough girl who just wants to settle down with a man who isn’t a psycopath. Nesson is broad and funny in a straight man way, and Neil Patrick Harris is wonderfully infuriating as the coiffed jerk who steals McFarlane’s woman.
I recommend A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST to McFarlane fans, and people who like fart humor, which eclipses but doesn’t destroy the more joyful aspects of the movie. But it’s crude as hell in some places, so be careful taking grandma to see this.
I wonder if McFarlane’s ode to westerns will help do what last years THE LONE RANGER (which I actually liked) couldn’t, which is resurrect the genre and prove that horses, six shooters, and heroes in white hats can make money at the multiplexes. I’m a huge fan of westerns myself, so I’m crossing my fingers. Then again, even the hit DJANGO UNCHAINED didn’t start a flood, so we’ll see.
Other entertainments for fans of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST –
LUST IN THE DUST
BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy
Almost anything by Ennio Morriconne