Bad Company (Benton, 1972)

What starts out a seemingly innocent film about boys growing up too fast in the Old West turns nasty fast and leaves its young protagonists reeling with the gory consequences. Director Robert Benton injects the typical 1970’s revisionist Western aesthetics – a folk music score, irony, and extreme violence, yet his film uses comedy in odd ways making the genre feel uncomfortable and uneven. Jeff Bridges’ young thief Jake Rumsey oozes charisma, but it’s a faux male sense of confidence and Benton anchors his themes of a paradise lost to the actor’s cracking facade. While Benton doesn’t always succeed in dancing between the comedy bits and the polar opposite violence, the director handles the child actors with genuine care, getting some outstanding performances, especially from Barry Brown who plays Drew, the moralist to Jake’s wild-child. Bad Company leaves you scratching your head, since it’s ending takes a slightly goofy and pessimistic stance considering the sincere characters developed in the story. But it’s a journey worth taking, especially if you love the Western.

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