Sam Elliott is cooler than you. Like...a lot. In the age of big, Hollywood stars, Elliott has become a dying breed in movies. He's a character actor, an actor content to play his part and typically absolutely KILL that part. That deep, gravelly voice, that epic mustache, Elliott was right at home within the western genre, like 1995's The Desperate Trail.
Traveling by stagecoach, Marshal Bill Speakes (Elliott) is transporting a prisoner convicted of murder to be hung. That prisoner....well, it's not your typical prisoner. Her name is Sarah O'Rourke (Linda Fiorentino), and she's been convicted of murdering her husband. The stagecoach is attacked though in a robbery attempt, and Sarah is able to get her hand on a pistol and take control of the situation, even finding $5,000 in a Wells Fargo lockbox. Well, she was in control of the situation. Another passenger, a seemingly harmless Easterner, Jack Cooper (Craig Sheffer), is able to get the jump on both Speakes and Sarah, riding off with all the money in his saddlebags. He's got to put some miles behind him though because Sarah isn't far behind and Marshal Speakes isn't too far behind her.
Now don't hold it against me, but I can't remember for sure. I believe 'Desperate' was a made-for-TV western that aired on TNT in 1995. I've reviewed a handful of these efforts over the last few years, but this is one of the few I had no experience with. From director P.J. Pesce (who co-wrote the script with Tom Abrams), 'Desperate' is certainly different from just about any other TNT western I can think of. Even Dollar for the Dead in all its spaghetti western tribute goofiness was just that; goofiness. This one is different. It's obviously influenced by countless westerns before it but has some fun being quite different from the norm. A female convict? An Eastern thief not used to the ways of the west? Unheard of!
Don't expect a ton of huge names in the cast if you're looking. It was especially cool to see Sam Elliott play a darker role if not necessarily a villainous role. There's more to his hunt for Sarah than just a law officer doing his job as that hunt becomes almost obsessive. He's going to get this woman and he's going to watch her hang. Rounding out the lead trio is Fiorentino and Sheffer, two actors who seemed destined for bigger and better during the 1990s but never took that big step to stardom. Fiorentino is all right but not especially memorable as Sarah, looking almost bored in some scenes. I thought Sheffer was the best thing going here as Cooper, the Bostonian traveling west to pull off a robbery he's been planning. With his manicured mustache, his nice suit, his derby hat, he looks out of place but Cooper is more capable than he's letting on. It's that likable anti-hero you can't help but be interested in. Two-for-three ain't too bad.
So do you like a good western? Awesome! Great to hear! I don't know any other way to say this other than....this is a genuinely kinda odd western. It's weird. The violence is surprisingly graphic for a TV movie, and there's even some surprising nudity. The rhythm is pretty straightforward, a chase from town to town, and the angle between Sarah and Cooper doesn't exactly come out of left field. Okay, here goes. 'Desperate' has that feeling of "I don't care what you think. Here's our movie. Deal with it." Not quite a revisionist western, I think it is just content to be itself, to be weird, to be excessively violent and quirky. At one point, Elliott's Speakes guns down a member of his own posse and threatens to do it to several others. It isn't going for laughs, but the genuine quirkiness provides some laughs. I don't know. Just weird, mostly in a good way.
Clocking in at 93 minutes, 'Desperate' isn't around too long to overstay its welcome. Here's the movie. Enjoy it. There's action sprinkled throughout, all of it building up to a bullet-riddled finale at an isolated desert ranch and barn. The slow motion, squib-heavy violence can be pretty rough at times, but it's an exciting ending for sure. Now as for the open-ended final scene? Eh, gag me. I'll pass. As for the rest of the cast, look for Frank Whaley as Cooper's astronomy-loving brother, John Furlong as an unlikely, abusive posse member and Bradley Whitford as a hard-drinking Irishman. An interesting movie in the end if not a good one. Definitely interesting though and probably worth a watch.
The Desperate Trail (1995): ** 1/2 /****