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Shoot
(1976)
 

Director:Harvey Hart                                 
Cast:
Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, Henry Silva


I think it's happened to all of us one time or another. That is, we hear about a movie that sounds interesting for one reason or another, and we can't find it, no matter how much we look. Then we spend the next few years looking for it on and off. Eventually, we find the movie, sit down eagerly to watch it and.... it sucks. While I don't think that Shoot was completely worthless, it was not what I was looking for. It seemed so promising; it was a Canadian tax shelter movie (it got its funding from the J. Paul Getty Corporation, who wanted a tax dodge) and it had a cast consisting of Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, and Henry Silva. The acclaimed Guide For The Film Fanatic author Danny Perry lead me on to think it was good, using adjectives in his review like "(potentially) controversial", "disturbing", "frightening", and "terrifying" to describe it. I would use the words "boring" and "stupid" myself.

Where was I? Oh yes. The plot concerns Rex (Robertson), an ex-vet now businessman who is bored with his job and his wife. His only satisfaction seems to come from the weekend hunting trips  he has with his friends, which include Lou (Borgnine) and Jake (Silva). One early Saturday morning he picks them up for another outing, though on this particular day they find it impossible to find anything to shoot. Near the end of the day, tired and frustrated, they find themselves at a riverbank. At the same time, another hunting party appears on the other side. Both sides freeze up at the sight of the other, and the well edited sequence builds a great deal of tension as the two sides simply look at each other. Then one of the members of the other party snaps, and fires a shot at Rex's party, grazing a member. Jake fires back, nailing the guy right between the eyes. Yeah! That's how to do it, Silva! And the subsequent shoot-out between the two sides is great as well, with bullets zipping around everywhere, and director Hart bringing a sense of chaos and panic in the fighting. Before this part of the movie things were okay, and it seemed with all this firepower happening now, the rest of the movie would be shaping up to be a barrel of laughs. Well, not quite.

Rex and his friends flee the scene after driving the other party away. After much discussion, they decide not to call the police, fearing they might be considered in the wrong. However, feeling both threatened and outraged by the incident, they start making plans to strike back, finding additional men to come along with them. It's around the beginning of all of this that the movie starts to go wrong. First of all, it's because it's mostly talk. Now, talk can be interesting, of course, but the talking here is mostly the same basic things over and over - the reluctant Lou keeps asking his friends to stop and think, Rex clenches his jaw and keeps stating they have to plan and strike back, and other keep stating that they either should have been there with Rex and his friends, or "I should have brought my tommy gun!" This gets boring pretty quick, and it takes up much of the running time; proof that there isn't much of a story here. Though a few things do happen, none of them really alter the situation or how the characters think. At one point of the story, a dumb subplot starts, concerning the frustrated wife one of Rex's friends coming to him for a job, but quickly becoming interested in him. This entire subplot has no purpose or subsequence to anything happening later in the movie.

What there is of a story to be found here isn't convincing. First, take a look at the characters of the hunters. They are portrayed as being loud, telling dirty jokes, making a lot of macho talk, and in one way or another not connected to women - Lou is divorced, Rex is estranged from his wife, etc. They are all vets, and love their guns, even wanting to shoot beer cans when they can't find an animal to shoot. Indeed, there seems to be a heavy anti-gun message in this movie, with every gun owner in the movie shown in the worst possible light. Still, especially with Borgnine's Lou character, we sense that these guys are not completely bad or crackers. And that's where the flaw in the story comes in. The characters in the movie actively make plans to return to the area, bringing with them other guys, so they can kill the other hunting party. This was probably made to show that gun owners are crazy, but I could not believe these gun owners would have the will to actually do this. They like their guns, but they don't seem to be the kind of guys who would - or want to - stage a homemade commando raid. There are attempts to hint to the audience and the members that there may be a threat if they don't do something to defend themselves, but this is so weak it's practically non-existent. Plus, how on earth do they convince a number of their buddies and coworkers to pick up their guns and join them on a mission that could kill them, especially since these people would have no quarrel with that other hunting party. It makes no sense.

It's not a surprise that Canadian director Harvey Hart is unable to do anything in the middle of the movie, though he does maintain the murky look and dark lighting for these indoor sequences that are also found in the surrounding outdoor sequences. The weather also keep changing throughout the movie (sometimes during a scene), though Hart might not have been able to reshoot or wait for a change in the weather. He does make the scenes of the characters trudging through the winter forest look creepy and believable, and the little action there is in the movie is well done, full of mayhem and that aforementioned chaos.

When it comes to the characters, however, Hart is once again helpless, and leaves the burden to the actors. Though Silva is third billed and shoots a guy right between the eyes, his character isn't that prominent; in fact, he almost disappears, because he's otherwise not given anything interesting to say or do. Robertson seems very uncomfortable onscreen, as if he alone was given the sole responsibility to provide the movie's character development. We never get an idea what drives his character, and Robertson's acting is a bit too "nice" for such a character. The scene where he puts on sunglasses, puts his hands in his pockets, and walks around the room where he and his friends are planning is unintentionally amusing, making him look and act like a third rate Douglas MacArthur impersonator. Surprisingly, the one actor who actually manages to scrape up a decent performance and make some kind of a character is Ernest Borgnine. He plays the more sane member of the group, constantly pleading with them to sit down and think deeply about whatever they are planning to do. It's clear that he knows what is going on is very wrong, though he is helpless when it comes to convincing his friends to do something else, even admitting that he isn't sure what should be done. So it's inevitable that he can't even stop himself from getting sucked into the situation.

In conclusion, because his review was one of the main reasons I was seeking this movie, I would like to leave a short message for Mr. Perry, should he be reading this: Nyah Nyah! No publisher would touch your Cult Movie Directors manuscript! Ha Ha!

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability of the original Douglas Fairbairn novel "Shoot"

See also: Baker County, U.S.A., The Road Hustlers, Trackdown

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