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A Million Ways to Die in the West

Film

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A Million Ways to Die in the West is another Seth MacFarlane project.  Some readers may have seen his previous effort, Ted, featuring a foul-mouthed teddy bear.

MacFarlane produces, directs, co-writes and stars in this new picture, a combination that might normally ring alarm bells in any movie.  Yet he has accomplished something appealing despite (some might say because of) the low-end comedic style that predominates.  How is that so?

A Million Ways is dressed with the rough language and morés of contemporary films, despite being set in the 1880s American west.  That contrast is obviously meant to be a selling point.  When its humour is not focused on sex or violence or drugs, it is persistently and confrontingly of the toilet variety.  Much of this is clearly shock for shock’s sake.  That, too, will get bums on seats.

The plot is corny and borrows deliberately from a hundred western forbears, and yet there is redemptive wit in the script and the actors appear to be enjoying their roles.  MacFarlane is charming as hapless sheep-farmer Albert who is unlucky in love, but then meets the newly arrived Anna (Charlize Theron), the woman who may just turn around his life or see him dying in the attempt.  Liam Neeson plays baddie Clinch, a mean gunslinger with the ethics of a rattlesnake.  You know that Albert and Clinch’s paths are bound to cross.

The film was made in Monument Valley, Utah, and relishes wide shots of the beautiful landscape in different lights.  Such attention to aesthetics was unexpected and the cinematography is frequently stunning.

There is a spot-on Big Western Movie musical theme, and a bit of intertextuality with a Back to the Future reference.  The movie obliquely acknowledges much earlier kinds of western satires such as Evil Roy Slade, Blazing Saddles and a host of Bob Hope-style matinee offerings.

It is R-rated and definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but it carries off its excesses with a wink to the audience that says MacFarlane knows he’s pushing boundaries.  This is sometimes very touch and go, but he succeeds.

 

 

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