Monday, July 18, 2011

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)

Robert Duvall Shines In This Forgotten 'Mid'western

- The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) is a very good but largely forgotten western, a fictionalized account of the true story of the Jesse James & Cole Younger gang's attempted robbery of the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota.

I like this film - but it does have a couple snafus. Firstly, a number of historical question marks pop up from scene to scene. Many of the historical question marks throughout the film are not really 100% inaccuracies though; they are more like representations of things that no one knows about, such as some of the character's motives. But this is a movie - when all is said and done, if one wants to actually learn about the raid, they should go read about it. However, I can understand how the inaccuracies could be considered as a negative point of the film by someone who has an interest in the era and, truth be told, they bug me too. One of the most notable inaccuracies can actually be found in the film's setting. The film features many beautiful shots of the Minnesota landscape - unfortunately, they could not possibly be of Northfield, MN since mountains tend to be absent from the American Midwest. Perhaps not-so-noticeable a flaw to the average viewer; but to a guy who has lived in Minnesota his entire life (like yours truly), it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Aside from any historical problems, the film includes a 5-10 minute scene featuring a wild and wacky baseball game that I feel deviates away from the already established serious tone of the film. The scene may be relatively short in the grand scheme of the film but I feel that it greatly distracts from the film and its characters nonetheless - it is a wart on the story.

Despite all of this, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid ends up being a pretty good western effort if you ask me - easily one of the better 1970s westerns. Under writer/director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff (1983), The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1988)) and cinematographer Bruce Surtees (Dirty Harry (1971), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)) The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid has a great deep, dark, and dreary western look and feel. The sets featured in the film are particularly great, they really take you back to that time period and the reconstruction of the city Northfield is done with a great deal of justice and accuracy. Also, the actual raid turned out to be a very exciting scene indeed with blazing guns and a great sense of desperation – the filmmakers could not have made the scene any better. Kaufman creates a good visual product but I also found his script to be interesting and useful in helping to understand the characters - very worthy of its Writers Guild of America Award nomination.

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid features many fine elements but the performances are what really make the film so watchable. Cliff Robertson's performance as Cole Younger is great, portraying him as a very likable guy and also as kind of the brains of the operation. There are also great supporting actors in the film, John Pearce and Wayne Sutherlin giving the most noteworthy performances amongst the group. Robert Duvall's performance is fantastic and completely steals the show; the actor is completely lost inside his portrayal of the infamous outlaw Jesse James. Duvall shows James' psychotic side wonderfully and puts a lot of intensity into his performance, which is by far the best portrayal of Jesse James outside of Brad Pitt's performance in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford in 2007.

Overall, despite some detractors, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid is a really good western and is definitely worth a viewing if you are a fan of western movies.

CBC Rating: 7/10

No comments: