Pale Rider

(Clint Eastwood, USA, 1985)


Underrated and wrongly dismissed on its release as a clone of the much-loved Shane (1953), this Western, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, is masterful and fascinating.

Indeed, since beginning his career as a director in the early '70s, Eastwood has quietly but surely become one of America's most consistently inventive filmmakers, as witty and romantic as he is tough and visceral.

The situation here is a classic Western set-up: a small farming community is increasingly menaced by the hired henchmen of a greedy, capitalist baron. They pray for a miracle and receive it in the form of Eastwood.

The star is, in the good-guy position, a laconic, no-nonsense protector. But, as in some of Eastwood's more challenging works (The Beguiled [1971], High Plains Drifter [1973]), this saviour figure quickly becomes a source of enigma and ambiguity. Is he an angel or the Devil? Has he come to cement this community or subtly drive it apart?

Despite its rousing action scenes, Pale Rider is deliberately understated, always playing on what is unsaid but palpably implied in any situation – whether violent hatred, burning desire, or both.

Eastwood has gathered an idiosyncratic and memorable ensemble of character actors (Carrie Snodgrass, Michael Moriarty, Christopher Penn) to complement his muted, autumnal, spacious directorial style.

MORE Eastwood: A Perfect World, Million Dollar Baby, Absolute Power, Unforgiven, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Bridges of Madison County, Space Cowboys, Blood Work, Mystic River, The Mule

© Adrian Martin September 1990

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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