Starring: Tom Selleck, Virginia Madsen, Barry Corbin, Wilford Brimley, Brad Johnson
Director: Simon Wincer
Mood: If you’re feeling all “Jesse’s Girl” about your best friend’s S.O. and want to watch Tom Selleck live out that fantasy but in a super noble way while doing ranch work with the best bro squad ever.
“Every time you finish talking, you get on your horse and ride away, why is that?”Ann Rodney (Virginia Madsen)
Is it possible to go wrong with Louis L’Amour movies?
Like The Sacketts, Crossfire Trail is a REALLY F*CKING GOOD L’Amour book-turned-movie featuring Tom Selleck. I’d probably even pick Crossfire Trail over The Sacketts or The Shadow Riders if I was in the mood for an upbeat, moustachioed Western. That’s the level of awesomeness we’re talking about here.
Crossfire Trail begins with Rafe Corvington (Selleck) beating the crap out of a ship’s captain. This always catches me off guard, because Selleck’s first scene in most movies is smiley, charming, and usually involves a woman.
Rafe made a promise to his dying friend that he would protect his ranch, and his wife Ann Rodney (Virginia Madsen). He journeys to Wyoming to fulfill that promise, picking up his affable young friends David O’Hara (Rock Mullaney) and Christian Kane (J.T. Langston), and acquiring an unlikely sidekick in Joe Gill (Wilford Brimley).
The men set about repairing the abandoned ranch (the widow is now living in town), and Rafe’s initial attempts to explain the situation to Ann go badly. Slick businessman Bruce Barkow (Mark Harmon) has convinced her that her husband died under different circumstances, to protect his own interest in taking over her ranch – which has petroleum pits on its property.
Barkow and his men give Rafe three days to evacuate, and the rest of the movie is the tension over the good boys staying determined to do the right thing, and the bad guys trying to screw over a widow and kill people.
There’s nothing especially unique about the story – it’s classic L’Amour: tensions over a woman and land, and men being manly. But the acting is so engaging that you can’t help but be swept along for the ride. I get sucked into the characters with every rewatch.
No matter his age (he was 56 at the time), Selleck is incomparable as a Western lead. From his soulful expressions to his horsemanship, he instantly transports you to another time.
If, like me, you thought it’s not humanly possible for a soul patch to work… BEHOLD: Tom Selleck winning at facial hair.
What’s extra special about Crossfire Trail is that the supporting cast gets tons of screen time, and is a powerful driving force in the story.
Brimley’s Joe Gill is one of my favourite Western sidekicks ever. This man is rough and rugged, but also warm and sweet, out of shape, and not at all the dude you’d expect to be Selleck’s backup. His character uses a 28-shot Evans Repeating Rifle, because “it holds 28 bullets… and I ain’t a very good shot…”. I love Brimley’s softer touch and gruff comedy.
- Fun fact: That rare rifle was invented by a Warren R. Evans of Maine, and was produced from 1873 to 1879
Then there’s Rock Mullaney’s O’Hara. I could listen to him talk for days with that affected Irish brogue. Mullaney holds his own in every scene with Selleck, adding layers to his character through his pacing and delivery.
Virginia Madsen strikes a fine balance of strength and vulnerability as Ann Rodney. This is one of those rare, awesome female roles in a Western where she’s not just eye candy poised to make somebody a wife.
And it seems you can’t have a Tom Selleck Western without Barry Corbin. Even though his Sheriff Walter Moncrief is kind of deplorable (he doesn’t even try to stand up to Barkow), he’s still entertaining. He’s got that kind of face and personality that somehow make a movie MORE Western.
Crossfire Trail delivers on all things Western: the scenic shots are beautiful, there’s plenty of action right out of the gate, and goddamn if the final showdown isn’t the awesomest chase on horseback I’ve ever seen.
I feel like I should be able to find some fault with this movie, because it doesn’t seem to be in the same class as more powerfully visual Western favourites like True Grit and The Kid. But I can’t – it’s immensely satisfying.