Was there anyone cooler than Paul Newman? I mean there is a reason why he starred in a movie called Cool Hand Luke. The man was the personification of the term “bad-ass” and every actor to come after him can stand in line for his crown because he continues to wear it even after his death. Hombre is a revisionist Western that came out during a time when the civil rights movement and the counter-culture revolution were bringing issues like racial injustice to the forefront of American consciousness. Whether or not you agree with the politics of those times shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of this movie. This is a film that stands on its own as a great story and great filmmaking.

Hombre stars Paul Newman as a white man who has lived among the Apache Indians almost his whole life. He is informed that he is the beneficiary of a house left by his recently deceased white father. Newman visits the house and finds that its being run as a boarding house by a woman (Diane Cilento). Instead of keeping the house, however, Newman decides to sell it for a herd of horses in another town. He books travel on a stagecoach to get to the town where he can buy his herd. On the stagecoach, he is accompanied by the now unemployed woman caretaker, a rich husband and wife, and a couple of other travelers heading to different destinations. The passengers, learning of Newman’s life with the Apaches, shun him until the stagecoach is held up by a gang of bandits. The passengers are then forced to trust Newman’s survival skills to help get them out of the harsh desert and beat the bandits.

Watching Hombre really made me miss the wide scope of 70mm film that was used to shoot films during that era. No matter how big or small the story was, the 70mm format made a movie look and feel epic. Each frame is able to capture so much of the scenery and without making it look compressed in scale. This was a perfect format especially for Westerns such as Hombre because you got a sense of the big sky and wide vistas the characters inhabit.

The characters and the performances by the actors are all-around excellent. Especially noteworthy are Paul Newman and Richard Boone as the baddie, Cicero Grimes. Newman is not your typical protagonist here. He doesn’t exhibit the classic hero attributes thats commonly associated with Western protagonists. In fact, Newman is kind of an asshole here and this stems from his disdain for the white man’s mistreatment of his adopted Native Americans. A few scenes do a great job showing how little he cares for white people, even to the point of letting them die or be killed. For an actor who was known for his all-American charm, this is a brave performance by Newman that shows his proclivity to take on difficult and “against type” roles. See the following 2 clips for a little taste of Newman being a bad-ass:

Richard Boone may not be known to many of you, but he was one of the best bad guy actors in Hollywood. His villainy wasn’t your standard bad guy material. No, he was the kind of antagonist who, despite all the horrible shit he says and does, you still like. More importantly, just by looking at him, you actually believe the actor himself may share the same characteristics as the character he plays. Unfortunately, Boone doesn’t get a lot of screen time and he has to share the screen with a couple of other bad guys. As a testament to just how good he is, however, he absolutely owns the little screen time he gets. See the following 2 clips that show how awesome this character is:

Hombre was shot mainly in Arizona and the director makes excellent use of the locations. They are just as much a part of the story as the characters and they give the film a stronger sense of reality. The director and his DP do a great job in selecting locations and shooting them in such a way as to convey the harsh, dry conditions of the landscape. This in turn reflect the dire situation the stagecoach passengers find themselves in as well as the cruel world where the white man is inflicting racial injustice against Native Americans.

Some of you may find the narrative and pacing of the film to be too slow. Hombre is not like your standard John Wayne action western or like the recently reviewed Rawhide TV series. Sure, it contains elements of the classic western such as a shootout, a stagecoach getting held up by bandits, etc., but it belongs to a trend in the Western genre during the 60’s that focused on more realism and a deliberate attempt to veer away from the normal Western genre conventions. Hombre is a very well written screenplay that makes effective use of silence and characters just waiting around to build up tension (especially during the climax of the film at the mine). The screenplay also pulls off the difficult job of taking a lot of characters and giving each a well defined and interesting character arc. You especially see this in Paul Newman’s character.

Hombre is a well crafted film that contains good characters (and even better actors playing them) and a simple, but highly effective and entertaining plot. It may be a product of 60’s politics and it is at times right in your face, but I didn’t find it bothersome. Its incorporated into the narrative and characters well enough that you don’t really notice it. If you’re looking for a good Paul Newman movie, give this one a try.

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