But this old fashion quality is only one aspect of what makes this a thoroughly enjoyable film. Charley is a real primal man who realized early in life that killing is what he did best. A civil war veteran and later a hired gun, his humanity finally catches up to him and he tries to leave his past behind. He does this by teaming up with Boss (Robert Duval), an old open range cattleman that Charley respects for his down to earth morals. Boss doesn’t hold with killing unless it’s absolutely necessary, and in the 10 years they ride together, Charley never kills another human being.
But when a cattle rancher murders one of Boss’ men and shoots another out of sheer prejudice against open range cattlemen, Boss knows that absolute necessity has arrived and reluctantly listens to Charley’s plan. The entire film builds to the final gun battle as most old-fashioned westerns do. Charley once again becomes the killer, but this time it’s with a high moral purpose that completes a kind of self-trauma therapy that began when he first started riding for Boss.
Charley’s journey is a karmic one, and though karma is an eastern concept, it’s not off the mark since many classic westerns were based on Japanese samurai films.
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