The Missouri Breaks (1976) Directed by Arthur Penn

So last time we were talking about Ricki & The Flash which evoked some feelings of New Hollywood style cinema. The Missouri Breaks is the real deal, if perhaps leaning towards the end of that movement. "But hold on a goddam' minute" (evokes Western rancher accent), "we is cooking the goose, and snapping the bait". What am I going on about? OK, let's clear this thing up, those of you who occasionally read this blog (stats show it's close to quarter of a mil so far) know that the WESTERN PICTURE is my fave genre. But for those other readers, the Finnish ones, you only make up about 25% of the those who peruse the site (the majority come from the land of HOLLYWOOD), you may have missed that. Finland, come on. Before I bore you with The Missouri Breaks technicalities, I thought I'd mention how me and Astrid were trying to make more of the blog. We really love doing it and we think it can occasionally be really good (especially if we're not too tired). A sponsor with someone? Featured on some magazine page? Who knows, but we'll think about it and if you have any ideas, please leave a comment.

Brando & Nicholson on set
Back to the movie, this is heavyweight stuff. Penn bought us the shake that made the apple fall from the tree with Bonnie & Clyde. Not only that, he exposed the noir tree with the exceptional Night Moves (1975). The Missouri Breaks is a sly film, casual even. A lot of the dialogue here is delivered not to camera and in a very natural, unscripted way. Yet, The Missouri Breaks always feels cinematic, evoking space and a great use of landscape. But like so much of the cinema of this time it's the performances that are eye catching and give The Missouri Breaks its heart. A lot of New Hollywood types fill the screen: Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton, Randy Quaid and Frederic Forrest. Of course the Joker here is Marlon Brando, in more than a literal sense. He owns large parts of this film as he delivers a comical yet sinister role of a bounty hunter. He displays ridiculous textures, baffling accents and mostly looks like he's having a laugh. Brando still manages to push the film into the realms of the unexpected. Yes, it's a Western, but this makes it more the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy variety as opposed to the Garth Brooks type.

Nicholson plays Tom Logan, a rustler
Love interest comes from Kathleen Lloyd and her scenes with Nicholson are intimate yet very believable. Nicholson is on his best form here, still in the glow of his finest cinema. But what surprises with The Missouri Breaks is the level of cruel violence and terror Penn unsuspectingly threads into the movie. This only heightens the playfulness of Brando's killer. Brando made some good work with Penn previously with The Chase and you feel that Brando trusts Penn here to go that extra mile. The Missouri Breaks could just be Brando's last great movie, an off-kilter, slightly wonky, quirky delight that makes you wonder why people don't takes risks like this anymore.

Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando are great at their acting craft. They are also strange, they appear odd where ever they appear. They act with intensity and intellect. They seduce the viewer with their unpredictable ways, glimpses of humour and something else, something deep like sorrow. Both actors appear to bring a whole lot of themselves into their roles – or then it is a persona, but nevertheless no matter what role they play in a given movie, they always carry many familiar characteristics. Something personal shines through – and at bad times, something way too constructed sticks out. Nicholson and Brando represent many sides of the masculine Hollywood stereotype. Yet, they have distinctly troubling features which poke holes in the wholesome male facade. The Missouri Breaks is a strange film which makes room for these two weirdos on the same screen.

I hold Nicholson's performance in Reds as proof of his ability to play without satirizing his own cinematic persona. If the amazing Reds (1981) offers Nicholson at his barest, Something's Gotta Give sees him walk through an entire film as a caricature of a caricature (although, the gist of that film are the glimpses that he might in fact have more to him). The Missouri Breaks lands somewhere in-between. Nicholson's horse thief is full of wit, daring and sex appeal but he has a vulnerability, a mysterious yearning towards gardening and simple family life even. Brando is more out-there. He delivers the strangest lines and he mixes up camp, western, feminine, super masculine, agile, crazy, smart, cruel and whatever else in his portrayal of a bounty hunter. At times it feels like the role is just a joke through which Marlon Brando, the person, is laughing at the triviality of cinema. I don't think cinema is trivial, but Brando did. At least he claimed so.

As I write these thoughts down, I am torn. I feel like we are reviewing too many old films and Westerns on this blog. Way too often I end up filling my three paragraphs with men, even if the movie does have great women – like here – Kathleen Lloyd. Westerns are a genre that I used to not care for, but due to my long relationship with my blogging partner here, I have grown to understand the language of Westerns. I can learn to like, appreciate and analyze something even if it isn't my passion. But I don't love Westerns. Sometimes they make me want to be a guy. Other times they make me want to listen to Bruce Springsteen and cook pasta. Anyway, they usually create a yearning – for a fringed leather jacket if nothing else. This I need to cure with a little more of Nancy Meyers' Something's Gotta Give.

Cute fringed leather jacket there Marlon!


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