1980s, 2/4, Clint Eastwood, Review, Western

Pale Rider

Pale Rider

#33 in my ranking of Clint Eastwood’s films.

There are two stories that happen to take pace in the same geological location in this film, and they undercut each other. It’s a rather frustrating experience.

In a hidden corner of California, a small mining community is desperately clinging to their foothold of ground, convinced that they’re about to strike gold at any point, but the neighboring large scale miner wants them off. He was a writ that would give him ownership of the land if it were abandoned. There being virtually no law within a hundred miles, LaHood is the law by default. The poor miners have nowhere to turn, so a young girl prays to God for deliverance. God sends her Clint Eastwood, I mean, the Preacher.

Up through the Preacher’s introduction I was with the film. The physical reality of the world was very well sold with great location filming and wonderful use of natural light (as Eastwood as director is well known for). The situation overall is clear cut, and the characters are drawn well enough to get going. However, the Preacher’s esoteric qualities begin to sidetrack the film. It’s not the fact that he beats up several LaHood minions with a stick or that he has a grouping of healed bullet holes in his back. It’s the fact that he doesn’t seem to know why he’s there. He provides some help and protection, but it almost seems incidental up to a point. He’s providing solace and aid where he can, but it’s at the mention of Stockburn that the movie really begins to split in two.

LaHood, in the interest of getting the miners off their land, has hired Stockburn and his gang. They’re described as law for hire (always operating in the interests of those who pay them, of course), and we find out that the Preacher and Stockburn have a history. The Preacher leaves town to get his guns from a safety deposit box in a Wells Fargo, and comes back to have his showdown with Stockburn. So, this story about miners fighting LaHood has been completely sidetracked for this story about the Preacher fighting Stockburn. The new story doesn’t feel like an outgrowth of the first story, despite being a plot bud. It feels like the bud of another movie grafted onto the story that had carried us for about an hour.

And even within its own current package, the story revolving around the Preacher and Stockburn is frustratingly opaque, a side element of the fact that it’s not introduced until very late in the film. The Preacher and Stockburn coming upon the conflict between the miners and LaHood feels like an accident instead of something fateful, purposeful, or designed. It doesn’t even seem to carry the same thematic ideas. It really feels like another movie came in and overtook the one that started at the beginning.

The most frustrating detail for me is the idea that the Preacher is a ghost. If he’s a ghost, then he was probably sent by God as an answer to the girl’s prayer at the beginning of the film. Well, he has no idea why he’s there. If he’s there to protect the miners, he comes upon the realization slowly. If he’s there to exact vengeance on Stockburn, why there? Why not where Stockburn is at the beginning of the film? Is God hitting two birds with one stone in this prayer request? Save the miners and give the ghost some revenge at the same time? LaHood didn’t have to call Stockburn. If he hadn’t called Stockburn specifically, then what would have been the point of the Preacher? Is this predestination and God knew that LaHood would call Stockburn specifically? If God had known that LaHood would have called upon another lawman for hire, would He have sent another spirit who had beef with the other lawman?

The inelegant intertwining of the two main plots really just creates confusion. It hinders a lot of the film’s enjoyment for me. The final shootout, for instance, is a quality bit of tension based editing and filmmaking in general, but it feels like it comes from a different movie than the one we had started two hours prior. I admire the film in parts, but the dichotomy of the film’s central stories just hampers the entire experience.

Netflix Rating: 3/5

Quality Rating: 2/4

5 thoughts on “Pale Rider”

  1. I kinda hate this movie. And I feel bad saying it, because…Clint Eastwood.

    But the kid is annoying and stupid, a proto-snowflake. The Mom is annoying and differently stupid. The guy who’s sweet on her is a beta cuck…possibly literally. The lighting is horrible, making some scenes almost unwatchable.

    There are slivers of good stuff in here. Liked the pick handle fight quite a bit. Some of the gunplay was good. The description and use of the water mining (which was used in Seattle to reshape the downtown area) was fascinating. Even Chris Penn was good….right up until the script called for the rape switch to be flipped.

    It’s BAFFLINGLY bad. Considering Clint followed this up with Heartbreak Ridge and a few years later directs one of the best Westerns ever made, there has to be a story behind why this movie is so bad.


    1. I’m surprised that no mention was made of the obvious homage to Shane, all the way to strapping on guns at the end. Shane, the film, was better. And the book was even better.


      1. Pretty much every movie of a lone gunman saving a family or small community owes something to Shane. The connection is so pervasive to the genre that it’s just not that notable after a while.

        The more interesting connection to me is with High Plains Drifter, the other movie where Eastwood played a potentially supernatural being out to exact vengeance in someone who offed him previously.


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