Comanche Moon

Starring: Steve Zahn, Karl Urban, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Rachel Griffiths, Val Kilmer, Linda Cardellini, Ray McKinnon, Elizabeth Banks

Director: Simon Wincer
Released: 2008

Mood: If your partner is more into rom-coms than Westerns and you want to appease them with a lengthy TV movie that’s full of more love stories and sadness than action.

You’d think with all this #stayathome time, I’d be watching Westerns every single goddamn day. But I was already a remote worker, and business has been as busy as ever – so my brain continues to be all used up by 5pm. 

It’s been more than a month since I watched a truly satisfying Western. A F*CKING MONTH. I’m bored. Forlorn. I have a terrible case of ennui.

You know when Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday says, “A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it”? That’s me. I’m Johnny Ringo. Except substitute killing, stealing, and pain for snacking, drinking beer, and wasting hours on social media. 

That was my attitude when I rewatched Comanche Moon. Keep that in mind.

comanche moon movie poster

Comanche Moon is another of the Lonesome Dove prequel miniseries. Lonesome Dove took place in the 1870s with Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae retired from the Texas Rangers. Dead Man’s Walk was circa 1942, when they’d just joined up. Comanche Moon is set in 1958. 

Gus (Steve Zahn) and Woodrow (Karl Urban) are still out Rangering with the boys, trying to ‘contain’ the Comanche. This time, they’re being led around Northwest Texas by eccentric Captain Inish Scull (Val Kilmer)

Kicking Wolf (Jonathan Joss, reprising his role from Dead Man’s Walk) steals the captain’s pride and joy – his horse Hector. Scull then abandons the Rangers to go off on foot with their Kickapoo scout, Famous Shoes (David Midthunder), but gets himself captured by a vaquero named Ahumado (Sal Lopez). Ahumado is a bizarre character whose entire existence makes no f*cking sense to me.  

Meanwhile, Comanche chief Buffalo Hump (Wes Studi) plans the biggest raid in history, as revenge for a mass shooting of Comanche chiefs and in an attempt to halt the white man’s progress. He gathers several Comanche bands together to raid settlements and ranches from one side of Texas to the other. 

  • The real Buffalo Hump did organize and lead the Great Raid of 1840 – but as the name suggests, it took place before even the first Lonesome Dove prequel. The shooting of the Comanche Chiefs, aka the Council House Massacre, was also a very real and horrific event.  

And in yet another set of stories, the Rangers’ womenfolk have their own problems:

  • Gus’ paramour Clara (Linda Cardellini) hates being left alone and thinks Gus will never settle down – 100% accurate
  • Long Bill Coleman (Ray McKinnon, also reprising his Dead Man’s Walk role) keeps leaving his pregnant wife Pearl (Melanie Lynskey) alone, which leads to a seriously heartbreaking result
  • Woodrow enjoys boning Maggie (Elizabeth Banks), but when she gets pregnant he refuses to acknowledge his responsibility 
  • Inish Scull’s wife Inez (Rachel Griffiths) is a privileged piece of work, pressuring all the young men into sex and making everyone generally uncomfortable; another character that did pretty much nothing for the story, except attempt awkward and unnecessary comic relief

Yeah, there’s a LOT going on. And as with Lonesome Dove, the pacing drags from start to finish. There’s a huge amount of story building and dialogue, with maybe one or two bursts of action in each of the first two episodes and a long, trailing final part. It’s more sprawling historical fiction than action-adventure, so you really have to be in the mood for dramatic storytelling – and I obviously was not.

illustration of a fancy moustache

Comanche Moon would have been significantly better if it had more Val Kilmer. 

This is another fantastic Kilmer Western role, although for a TOTALLY different reason than Tombstone. His performance as Inish Scull is fascinating – eloquent with a side of crazy, a leader of men who’s just a bit ridiculous. Kilmer expertly takes you on this enthralling journey to twitching madness and back (but not quite). Unfortunately, he isn’t in much of the last two hours. 

Kilmer was so into this role, he shaved his hair into a mohawk to make it easier to apply his wig, let them shoot several scenes on his own ranch, and dropped out of another movie (Dark Matter) to be available. 

Comanche Moon does have another plus side: it features significantly more of the Native stories, so you get a more balanced take on everything that happens

Wes Studi is commanding as Buffalo Hump. He gives you an observant, strategic leader that’s wholly believable. Adam Beach is a million times better as Blue Duck than Frederic Forest in Dead Man’s Walk. He plays the character with this anger and darkness that works perfectly. And David Midthunder gives Famous Shoes a sort of ‘I’m actually on my own side’ vibe, like he’s helping the Rangers but on his own terms.

  • Fun fact: Wes Studi played Famous Shoes in the Lonesome Dove sequel The Streets of Laredo (1995)

Steve Zahn and Karl Urban were both good choices for Gus and Woodrow. Zahn is silly and clumsy and sweet, while Urban is eerily good at the hard, stoic man without feelings. Their dynamic feels exactly the same as in the other series. I don’t have that loyalty to the original Lonesome Dove cast that rabid fans do, because I found it to be equally tedious. 

illustration of a fancy moustache

I actually love the work of director Simon Wincer. He gave us Lonesome Dove, Crossfire Trail, Monte Walsh, and Quigley Down Under – he clearly appreciates the brilliance of Tom Selleck. Wincer’s movies are beautifully shot, and usually filled with great characters and strong acting. Comanche Moon is a gorgeous show… it’s just SO F*CKING SLOW

Maybe it’s just the state of the world right now, and that Johnny Ringo-sized hole in me that’s desperately seeking something that doesn’t exist. Maybe Comanche Moon is a good Western. But it mostly left me confused and unsatisfied