The western is a proud, but sometimes forgotten American genre of cinema. There was a time when it dominated the big screens with the likes of Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, William Holden, Clint Eastwood – man those were the years! As time went on, the genre quietly took a backseat, but there have been resurgences since then, with such classics as Unforgiven (one of my all time favorites), No Country for Old Men, Django Unchained, but for the most part, it is lost in the sea of blockbusters of today’s multiplex. However, if one looks closely, gems from the genre can still be found and Evan Vetter’s Times Like Dying is one of those charms.
The story is simple. Three outlaw brothers on the run from a bank heist seek medicine and rest for their one injured brother and happen upon a lone cabin. They find solace, but there’s a catch. The cabin is the home of a dying lawman and his caretaker. All they have to do is get through the night and then they can be on their way; however, the appearance of the renegade fourth outlaw puts a violent wrinkle in their plans.
As you can gather, there is nothing new with the story of Times Like Dying. Hard times force three brothers to throw their lot in with a violent sociopath and soon run afoul of the law. As fate would have it, they cross paths with a lawman who essentially has nothing to lose.
If there is a criticism of Times Like Dying it is that its story presents nothing new and treads familiar genre territory. It’s a tried and true story for a western. It has a little bit of a lull in the latter half of the film where I suddenly found myself drawn out of the story for a moment, but it was more of a pacing issue rather than the plot. But overall, darn it, it works.
The cast is excellent, led by wonderful work from Jim Cody Williams as Percy. He hits all the emotional chords to make this well-worn story resonate. Helping the film is the art direction and photography. Each is exquisite with detail and the photography is beautifully filmed, framed and colored.
Vetter and Director of Photography Brad Walker perfectly capture the essence and feel of the genre. The opening sequence hooks you with wonderful action shots strung together with pulsating editing and I couldn’t help but notice a possible shout out to Porter’s The Great Train Robbery. I’m probably over-thinking the homage, but what the heck! It had me glued.
Finally, Evan Vetter’s direction is felt in every facet of the production and this film gives credence to film being a director’s medium. He takes Anthony Reynolds and Shon Blotzer’s script and brings it fully to life.
I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for westerns, but even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, I suspect you’ll find Times Like Dying worth your time. From the opening sequence to the final fade out, Evan Vetter’s Times Like Dying is not only a good western, it’s a good short film. It’s a superb homage and a splendid film in it’s own right.