Roy Bean (Paul Newman) walks into a saloon in Vinegaroon, and receives singular mistreatment by the inhabitants. With the help of a local woman, he arms himself and slays those who’ve wronged him … and names himself judge of the West Texas bordertown. All of that is vaguely tantalizing; it’s directed by John Huston (The Maltese Falcon! The African Queen! Casino Royale (the original)!) so what could possibly go wrong?
To add to the potential brooding under the surface is the screenwriter, John Milius. He’s the mind behind the first two Dirty Harry films, Apocalypse Now, the original Conan the Barbarian, and the original Red Dawn. This seemed like a no-brainer, newly discovered jewel to me… until it wasn’t.
Let me be clear: I love Westerns. I hunger for them, with their sense of the Wild West, the wildness, the adventure, the heartiness, the sense of morality that had to be fought for and won. I want to find more of them to enjoy – and since Hollywood has rarely made one of late (Netflix’s Godless is definitely worth the spin)- I have to dig into the archives. I had hoped the latest from our friends at Warner Archives would be one of the good ones but …
Judge Roy Bean is the absence of nuance and character. Newman does Newman, with a wry, twinkling set of blue eyes and a stern delivery, but there’s just nothing there to watch, to grow, to develop. He’s somehow a paper thin flat character who never really develops. He’s just kind of a sad reminder of what Newman was capable of, and a violent, Wild West that used to be romanticized but was in reality, deadly and horrific.
And then there’s Milius’ dialogue and script. There’s a strange blend of breaking from the timeline beyond the fourth wall to address the audience that works for Deadpool and doesn’t work here. There’s a jumping from one situation to another with no segue or reason which makes an otherwise problematic film feel even more disjointed. It’s an off-putting attempt at humor and wit that just seems to regularly fall flat.
The real Roy Bean sounds more interesting than what we see in this movie, and that’s unfortunate. We need more Westerns – and Paul Newman, John Huston, and John Milius have done much better.