I will go out on a limb and say that even if you don’t dig John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Westerns, or even old movies, you will like this movie. Yeah, it stars John Wayne. Yeah, its an old Western. However, its not what you think. If you like heist movies, which I am a SUCKER for, The War Wagon is a film not to be missed. Just watching Wayne and Douglas share the screen together is worth your 1 hour and 41 minutes alone. Throw in a great story with good characters and a well paced movie and you’ve got a classic.

The War Wagon is about a stagecoach made of metal thats full of gold bullion. Its owned by a greedy asshole mine owner who ships gold out of his mines and transports them in his metal wagon every few days back to his ranch outside of town. The ranch used to belong to John Wayne, who was framed by the mine owner for a crime he didn’t do and put in jail. While in jail, the mine owner took Wayne’s ranch and surrounding property, which contained a lot of gold….gold that now belongs to the mine owner. Wayne is now out of jail and he decides to put together a team to raid the wagon and steal its gold shipment, which is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. His team includes Kirk Douglas, an explosives expert, one of the mine owner’s employees, and an Indian. Together they hatch an elaborate plan to take the wagon and the results are pretty frickin’ cool.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: As hard as it is to believe, John Wayne became a much better actor in his later years. The War Wagon was his 162nd film so you would think he would have finally developed a fine set of acting chops (and its to be noted that he won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in True Grit). There is no doubt that Wayne has always held a strong presence on screen. What else explains his icon status as Hollywood’s greats? Here, even though he shares top billing with Kirk Douglas, Wayne still holds his own and you can’t stop watching him. Whats more, he gives a fine performance and makes for a likable character. As someone who’s been cheated out of everything he owns by someone you instantly come to hate, you want to see Wayne prevail against the mine owner even it means stealing from him.

As great as John Wayne is in The War Wagon, Kirk Douglas is just as good if not better. I’ve always heard how athletic Douglas is, which probably explains his longevity, but I didn’t realize just how good in shape he is until I saw this film. The man performs his own stunts and although this may not sound impressive by the way I describe it here, the ease with which he mounts a horse, climbs up rock walls, etc. is not something a person with average or even above-average strength can accomplish. Douglas gets the luck of the draw in this film by getting to play the most interesting character. He’s a flamboyantly dressed sharpshooter who likes women, drinking, and money. His scenes with Wayne are unforgettable and its great to watch the two actors try to one-up each other (according to reports, Wayne, a Republican and a close friend of Ronald Reagan, was furious when he learned that Douglas had flown back to California from the Durango, New Mexico set to shoot an anti-Reagan commercial).

I’ve mentioned The War Wagon is a heist film. It reminded me a lot of the Ocean movies, which I’ve mostly liked. Like the Ocean films, each member of the heist gang has a special skill. You always know the outcome of heist movies, but what makes them interesting is how they’re going to pull off the heist. Here, you don’t know what the plan is until you actually see it set in motion. Up until the day of the heist, you just see the characters prepare for it and this is a very effective way of getting the audience to stay interested in the film. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but lets just say that I was pleasantly surprised by its outcome. The War Wagon doesn’t contain a high-concept idea, but its a well-executed one and thats just as satisfying as a highly original story.

I highly recommend The War Wagon to anyone who likes movies. I know this is a pretty bold claim to make, but I obviously stand by it and I don’t usually throw around such high praise for a movie. This is a fun, action-filled adventure film that has 2 of the most famous actors in Hollywood history.

Advertisements