Monte Walsh

Starring: Tom Selleck, Keith Carradine, Isabella Rossellini

Director: Simon Wincer
Released: 2003

Mood: If you want to watch an awesome Western, but you’re in the doghouse and need to put on something romantic and sad enough to make your S.O. cuddle up and appreciate you because at least you’re more observant than Tom Selleck. 

Every time I think I couldn’t possibly love Tom Selleck any more, he proves me wrong. 

I’ve watched his Westerns too many times to count, and I’ll keep watching them over and over and over again until it’s no longer humanly possible. There’s something he brings to the screen that’s unmatched by any other Western lead I’ve ever seen. 

It could just be my MASSIVE F*CKING CRUSH on his moustache. But I’m 99.9% sure that he could convince anyone of anything. He could easily become President. 

Hell, he could probably get elected Prime Minister. No one would be like “oh but Tom Selleck, you’re not a Canadian citizen”. It would be all “Woohoo! Magnum P.M.!”

Monte Walsh is a remake of a 1970 film starring Lee Marvin and Jack Palance (and both are based on a novel), and I can’t imagine how the original could be anywhere near as good as this version. I promise to update this review if and when I get to see it. 

This movie is utterly heartbreaking yet somehow hopeful, and a different sort of Western that feels weirdly relatable. 

Monte Walsh DVD

Monte Walsh opens in 1892 Wyoming. This isn’t the glory days of the 1870s and ‘80s; developments in hardware and technology are already edging out certain occupations, and that includes the cowboys. 

Monte Walsh (Selleck) and his BFF Chet Rollins (Keith Carradine) are aging cowhands who spend 90% of their time on horseback, pushing cattle and picking up whatever ranch work they can find. The problem is that now there’s way less work, and too many cowboys vying for those positions. 

Monte’s particular skill is as a bronc buster, which is super fitting given Selleck’s strong horsemanship. But he and Chet have to take less exciting work at a ranch run by Cal Brennan (William Devane). The resident horse breaker is a young man they know named Shorty (George Eads), for his short fuse. 

Although the ranch is initially shown as pretty entertaining, a lot of small disappointments start to rack up. Chet gives up cowboying to get married and work in a hardware store. Cal has to lay off a few of the guys including Shorty, who then winds up rustling and getting in major shit with the law. 

Through it all, Monte regularly visits his longtime flame, the saloon girl Martine Bernard (Isabella Rossellini), and bemoans his lot in life. She’s endlessly supportive while never asking a thing from him, despite the fact that she’s obviously got tuberculosis. 

illustration of a fancy moustache

Selleck, Carradine, and Rossellini all excel in this movie, but not in the way that I’m used to raving about. 

Selleck’s performance was downtrodden and a bit existential as an older man who went his whole life thinking he had it figured out, then suddenly finding himself alone. But it wasn’t one note – he brought the comedic charm in the funnier moments. And his final showdown wasn’t like in his other movies. It was more dejected than anything else. 

Apparently the script is almost word-for-word identical to the 1970 version, but some of Monte’s harsher lines were given to other characters because they didn’t suit Selleck’s sweet nature.

Carradine is a natural cowboy, as always. There wasn’t as much range here as in Last Stand at Saber River, but he adds such depth to any character he plays that you can’t help but connect. And Rossellini was achingly upbeat and hopeful as Martine, to the point where you wanted to slap some sense into Monte.

George Eads surprised me, not being familiar with him in other movies. At first he seemed kind of like any cocky brat who thinks he’s tough shit, but Eads played it so sincere that my heart legit hurt for him.   

And James Gammon’s scenes as Fighting Joe Hooker might have been brief, but he managed to squeeze as memorable a performance into them as any of the leads. 

Monte Walsh delivers on forlorn romance, futility in the face of change, and capturing the all-encompassing sadness that comes with feeling lost in the world. Yet somehow it never borders on sappy emo – it’s a strong-ass Western, and the bronc busting scenes are SUPER fun to watch. 

Director Simon Wincer seems to really like working with Tom Selleck, and that makes me really like him.

Now. Can we get back to this whole Magnum P.M. thing? Because I think it has huge potential.

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