Reviews: Shane

Great Classic

The movie Shane is a great piece of cinema with a simple yet gripping story and a intelligent subtext. It's influence on contemporary action movies is more far reaching than many people may realize at first glance, further popularizing the stoic wanderer who hides a dark past. Of note is its low kill count. You can count on one hand the number of people who die in this film, yet the killing that does occur had a greater impact on me than many of the recent actions films that try to adopt the same formula. In this current age where filmmakers feel the need to decorate their stories with a ridiculous body count and obtusely hypocritical and half-baked statements about heroism, Shane is a refreshing look into narrative conservation of detail. Although few people die in the movie, the acts of killing are secondary to how that killing affects its perpetrators and observers. More is said about the psychological and moral ramifications of ego-driven violence in that 1 hour and 57 minutes than a typical 90-minute film that thinks it's being visceral and edgy by having the hero mow through endless waves of unsympathetic, dehumanized enemies.

Starrett's apprehensions about dealing with Ryker with physical force stem from his desire to diplomatically resolve the situation while also wanting to retain his sense of individual freedom. The political subtext can be seen when we hear the homesteaders complain about the government-sponsored law enforcement, who are said to be three days away and thus unreliable. Freedom of property ownership is a recurring theme, as is the issue of how competing economic influences can lead to an erosion of freedom. American values are at stake in Shane, and one of the ugly realities it presents is that many of our values are in conflict with one another more than we'd like to admit (autocratic self-defense versus non-violent democracy, gun control versus gun rights, etc.).

Shane was said be quite expensive to produce, and while it has the trappings of a 1950's big-budget film, it is surprisingly and refreshing introspective in its premise. Shane's inability to relinquish his violent inclinations is made more effective as a storytelling device largely because he isn't leaving a mass of bodies in his path as he gives a solemn speech about the ugliness and pointlessness of gunslinging.