Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 1995 // 263 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // May 27th, 2010
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.
Once upon a time, there was the miniseries. Too long for a movie yet not substantial enough to be sustained over a full season, the miniseries satisfied the event-TV jones that kept viewers enthralled and producers in the chips. Beginning in the mid-'70s, the miniseries became a sweeps-month staple, covering such epic subjects as World War II (The Winds of War), 17th-century Japan (Shogun) and, of course, slavery (Roots).
But with cable's rise in the 1990s, broadcast network viewership began to erode and the money-hungry miniseries machine sputtered. Eventually, as they had with upscale, award-bait movies of the week, the broadcast networks ceded the miniseries turf to cable, most notably to HBO, which established itself in the field with the much lauded Band of Brothers.
Streets of Laredo, produced in 1995, is an elegy of sorts, for the miniseries. A sequel to the monster hit Lonesome Dove, it represents not only the end of the miniseries epoch, but is also among the last westerns produced for broadcast television, making it a throwback in more ways than one.
Woodrow Call (James Garner, The Rockford Files) is a Texas Ranger hired to rid the west of the scourge that is Joey Garza (Alexis Cruz, Stargate SG-1), a train robber and cold-blooded killer. As Call amasses his partners in pursuit of Garza, he encounters everybody from corrupt lawmen to vengeful native chieftains to Judge Roy Bean himself. Along the way, he saves children, pummels villains, and says things like "We'll need a fresh mount."
Based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, the venerable author of such novels as Terms of Endearment, Streets of Laredo is a trove of tropes and traditions; firewater, six-shooters, and sage Native American trackers are among the genre icons that pop up in its four-hour-plus running time. While there's something comforting about the black hats vs. the white ones and knowing that the good guys will triumph, the linear plot and predictable beats of the story make Streets of Laredo less than riveting.
Director Joseph Sargent (Jaws: The Revenge) keeps things moving at a brisk clip, with the shootouts well-choreographed and the Texas locations photographed beautifully. His respect for the iconography of the genre is evident in the evocative production design and impeccably cast actors in minor roles, each of whom looks like he stepped out of a Matthew Brady-era photo.
Sargent fares equally well with his stars. Garner, who redefined the western genre with his first TV series, Maverick, completely inhabits the role of the taciturn and dyspeptic Call, making viewers forget Tommy Lee Jones's portrayal of the same character in Lonesome Dove. Sam Shepard (Stealth) makes his mark as Call's deputy, Pea Eye Parker, just one of the many colorful monickers in a story populated with names like Charlie Goodnight, Famous Shoes, and Mox Mox. As Shepard's missus, Sissy Spacek (Carrie) is predictably dependable, as is Ned Beatty's (Deliverance) Bean, and Randy Quaid's (Brokeback Mountain) John Wesley Hardin is menace incarnate.
Though the cinematography is lush, the 4:3 presentation of Streets of Laredo denies viewers the true majesty of the story's locations. The production's audio is an unimpressive stereo mix and the 2-disc set is bereft of any extras -- even closed captions and subtitles -- making Streets of Laredo a disappointingly second-rate package.
Two words: George Carlin. There's something inspiring about watching a performer step out of his sphere and do something completely unexpected, as anyone who saw Martin Short's turn as a twitchy con man in last season's Damages can attest. In Streets of Laredo, Carlin (The Prince of Tides) leaves an indelible impression as the grizzled drunk Billy Williams. Channeling such western legends as Walter Brennan and Gabby Hayes, Carlin etches a believable, funny, touching portrayal of a lonely old cowpoke caught between the law and the outlaw. It's a pleasure to watch the rubber-faced standup lose himself completely in the role and more than hold his own with pros like Garner, Beatty, and Sonia Braga (The Milagro Beanfield War).
For western completists or fans of any of the stars, Streets of Laredo is a comforting old blanket of a western to crawl under on a rainy Saturday afternoon. If you're not in either of those camps, bypass these Streets.
Guilty by reason of familiarity.
Review content copyright © 2010 Chris Claro; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 263 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated