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Lawman

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PG
1971

Lawman is a 1971 Western film featuring an ensemble cast led by renowned actors, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Lee J. Cobb. The film, directed by Michael Winner and scripted by Gerald Wilson, combines elements of drama, action, tragedy, moral dilemmas, and exciting showdowns. Lawman offers a thought-provoking take on the Western genre, highlighting the fraying edges of law and justice in the often brutal, wild frontiers.

Burt Lancaster dominates the screen with his profound portrayal of an uncompromising and tenacious lawman, Jared Maddox. He is known and feared for his unwavering dedication to the law, irrespective of personal affiliations or sentiments. Maddox travels to a small mining town in pursuit of seven men he holds accountable for the inadvertent killing of an old man during a drunken spree back in his town.

Lancaster's Maddox presents the image of a steely-eyed, cold, and unyielding lawman, a no-nonsense character who believes in the absolute nature of his profession. His unwavering determination to apprehend these men, despite knowing the odds are against him, creates a thrilling tension that throbs at the heart of Lawman. This complex, often ruthless protagonist greatly contravenes the traditionally glorified image of a Western hero.

Robert Ryan, another powerhouse actor, impressively depicts a former lawman, Cotton Ryan, who retired to this mining town after feeling drained by the changing frontier's brutality and violence. His character is shown as a reflective, weary man confronted by his past when Maddox arrives, requesting his assistance. The dynamic between the two lawmen efficaciously contributes to both the narrative's complexity and the exploration of the film's core themes.

Lee J. Cobb lends his craftsmanship to the role of Vincent Bronson, a wealthy, influential rancher, the town's obvious authority, and the man whose men Maddox is after. Cobb's Bronson is a conflicted character, laden with regret over the accidental death, but reluctant to surrender his men for their heedless actions. This character's power struggle with Maddox lays the groundwork for gripping confrontations and moral quandaries.

The film situates this trial of righteousness and order within the psychedelic dusk of the 1970s. Joining the stampede of revisionist Westerns in that era, Lawman resists romanticizing the law-keepers and their opponents, the cowboy outlaws. It dives into the murky bowels of justice, questioning whether the ends can ever truly justify the means.

The raw realism and hard-edged grit of the film are amplified by Robert Paynter's vibrant cinematography, which paints the frames with desaturated tones that mirror the story's bleak themes. Adding to this is the atmospheric music by Ken Thorne that creates a brooding, melancholic ambience, effectively underscoring the portrayal of a changing Wild West.

Michael Winner’s direction binds these elements together, spinning an intense, starkly realistic Western drama, free of heroic ballads and romanticized good-versus-evil tropes. The film takes isolated events and slots them into a wider, ruthless narrative, emphasizing the cost of upholding justice in a rapidly changing world. Winner’s direction ensures the film never shirks away from putting its characters under severe judgment, forcing them, and the viewers, to confront the grim truths of frontier justice.

As much as Lawman is a character study, it's also a study of a moment in history, the transition of the wild west into a more civilized, law-abiding society. It's a cynical, hard-boiled look at the ambiguities and hardships involved in the administration and execution of justice.

With compelling performances driving its narrative, Lawman is a substantial, morally complex Western. The film is an incredibly riveting exploration of the human condition, utilizing masterful storytelling, brilliant acting, and gritty realism to underscore its compelling themes. It's a classic Western film that incites reflection and sparks conversation, pushing the genre beyond its traditional boundaries and reaffirming its relevance in contemporary cinema.

Lawman is a Western movie released in 1971. It has a runtime of 99 mins. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 7.0. It also holds a MetaScore of 52.

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7.0/10
52/100
Director
Michael Winner
Stars
Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall
Genres
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