Gunless (2010)

(In theatres, May 2010) Canadians being politely nationalistic, we won’t help but feel a bit protective about this latest homage to the land of maple-flavoured beavers.  Gunless is, conceptually, an attempt to upend the traditional US-based western: A lone American (played by Paul Gross) comes to town and looks for a fight.  Unfortunately, he has wandered over the frontier in a quaintly Albertan village where everyone is polite, mild-mannered and unarmed.  Through thin plot mechanics, he gets to woo a local widow, defend the village against even worse Americans and learn a few lessons about the value of peace, order and good government.  It’s pure catnip for Telefilm Canada, but it’s not exactly the most satisfying film to ever earn government grants: The nationalistic winking gets old real quickly, and Gross seems to believe that enough square-jawed smiles will be enough to make us ignore that Canadian archetypes are often unstoryable.  The traditional American western is a show of dominance, of guns as equalizers –serving storytelling needs by making up a difference between numerous evildoers and lonesome do-gooders.  Making a movie that satirizes this plot structure is tricky, because it asks audiences to run against their best instincts.  There’s seldom a way to bring this off to a satisfying conclusion without being hypocritical and Gunless is certainly no exception: Despite the film’s celebration of Canadian gunlessness, we know that a gunfight is coming: after all, it’s a western!  When it comes, we also know that its consequences will be dramatically unsurprising: after all, it’s a comedy!  The result is more interesting in how it confirms Gross’ reputation as one of Canada’s fiercest cultural nationalist (also see: Men with Brooms, H20, Passchendaele) than for its limp take on American-style westerns.  In many ways, Gunless feels like a bit of cultural content made “because it’s good for you”: Expect to see it re-run often on Canadian TV stations as a cheap and unobjectionable bit of Canadian Content.  The problem is not that we’ve seen better; it’s that it’s really easy to see better movies.  Many of them were even made by Americans.

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