I went into Gunless expecting to really like it. For one, it’s a Canadian-set Western (something of a rarity), and it stars Paul Gross, who I’ve been a fan of since his days on the television show Due South. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that it looked like a production that should be airing on the CBC rather than in the theatre.
While on the run from bounty hunter Ben Cutler (Callum Keith Rennie), American gunslinger The Montana Kid (Gross) crosses the Canadian border and ends up in the small town of Barclay’s Brush. He’s bleeding and dirty and after the local blacksmith, Jack Smith (Tyler Mane), takes his horse in an effort to help the animal’s damaged hooves, Kid decides to pick a duel with him. Why? Because that’s what they do in the Wild West, which this is obviously not (Smith doesn’t even have a gun because Canadians are a peaceful, non-violent bunch).
As news spreads that Kid needs a gun for Smith so they can battle, he’s welcomed to the town by the 17 people who live there (all of which appear to be star-struck over the outlaw). Jane (Sienna Guillory), Barclay’s Brush’s most beautiful resident, has an old busted-up pistol she offers Kid on the condition that he helps her build a windmill while he fixes the gun. A few ridiculously played-out scenes later, and we’re on the edge of our seats waiting for Kid to shoot Smith… Actually, we’re not. Gunless is so predictable that you know it’s going to be a happy ending even before Kid pulls a carrot out and waves it around like a weapon.
Gross is good at both the dramatic and comedic aspects of the role and the character suits him well. Same goes for the rest of the cast, especially Mane, who up until now was best known for playing serial killer Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween 2 remakes. To actually hear him deliver lines (unlike his previous muted role) was a nice treat, even if the lines were terrible. Unfortunately the cast isn’t enough to save the film from sinking.
Writer-director William Phillips’s previous films, Treed Murray and Foolproof, were quite enjoyable and I think if he delivered a straight western instead of a comedic one it could have worked much better, and I would be able to recommend it. Instead I can’t, and it’s a shame because I really want to support Canadian film. I just can’t with Gunless.
** out of 5 stars
Top image: A scene from Gunless. Courtesy Alliance Films.