Starring: John Wayne, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood
Director: John Ford
I had a bit of a western movie marathon a couple of weeks ago (I know! I'm just catching up to the movie reviews! It's been crazy! Exclamation points!) and thought, after watching Leone's masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West, I would start to enjoy this genre a bit more. Boy, was I wrong! Well, at least with this movie - The Searchers is considered a classic (number 12 on AFI's Top 100!), but I feel it's outdated and frankly, quite boring. Maybe I'm a fan of Leone's westerns more so than the typical American-made western, but I just thought this was dull and a bit overrated!
The story goes like this: John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran who has a nasty streak and plays by his own rules. He becomes obsessed in finding his niece after she's captured by a local Indians, who killed the rest of his niece's family. He's followed by a young, strapping lad, Martin, who is part Indian himself. They spend years looking for her and the supposed moral ambiguity is that his niece has been assimilated into the tribe after more than a couple of years. Martin and the audience aren't quite clear what Ethan's end game is - does he kill his niece or bring her back to her original family? It's a complicated question and there is quite a bit to dissect in this movie - but I feel like a lot of it seems glossed over and overshadowed by John Wayne's performance. He plays this character too straight - I never once felt how conflicted he was or what fueled his hatred and racism for the Indians besides revenge. I don't think this movie is bad - it just dragged a bit and much like Ethan and Martin, the search seems hopeless and endless.
It's a tiring movie, and I found myself opening up the laptop to check my email and my blogs because I was bored. I usually don't do this, because I want to be invested in the story, but this one was so hard to get into. And the ending was not satisfying, either. It just seems too simple and clean for the complicated mess that is on the horizon for Ethan's family. Re-integrating someone who's been assimilated into a culture is complicated, but the movie doesn't even address the issue. The credits roll when possibly the most important part of the movie is happening. I hated the movie for that and in the end was increasingly more annoyed by Ethan and his actions. I remember reading the back of the cover and it came across as saying Ethan has a hard shell, but deep down, he's a softie and through this journey, he realizes his humanity. No effin' way! I call bull on that, because we don't see any change in him other than not killing his niece! That's supposed to be the grand humanitarian gesture? That he didn't kill, but rather brought her back into a society that pretty much hates who she is (because let's face it: she's been raised as an Indian, not a white person).
I've heard the book deals with these issues more delicately and leaves things a bit more ambiguous, so I would rather you check out the book than this movie. I felt the whole movie didn't go far enough to address racism, etc. and on top of that - it was pretty dull. There's not a lot of action (for a western, that's bad!) and the characters seemed to lack any depth - even Martin, who's partly Indian! But we didn't see too much of his side of the story, which would have been great! Alas, it's not worthy of a rental - skip this western!
Rating: Not Worth Paying For!