Starring: Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Diane Lane
Director: Simon Wincer
Running Time: 384 mins
Lonesome Dove is an American film about a pair of Texas rangers who decide to move from their home in the town of Lonesome Dove to Montana, in the wild north of the United States. Herding cattle across the country, their epic journey takes them across the great American wilderness, where they encounter allies and enemies alike.
Split into four parts, and running for over six hours, there’s no denying that Lonesome Dove is about as epic as westerns get. Set across the sprawling American wilderness, this journey of a lifetime is as intimate as it is enormous, with a tight-knit group of characters who you really grow fond of over its undoubtedly daunting runtime.
Let’s first talk about that runtime. Originally released as a miniseries, Lonesome Dove is very clearly designed as one, massive film. Its four parts cover the four main stages of the rangers’ voyage across America, but the entire story features a consistent thread of loyalty, betrayal, bravery and the harsh, often brutal challenges of the Wild West.
On the one hand, I can’t say that Lonesome Dove uses its exceptional runtime to perfect effect at every moment. The film isn’t on the level of other six-hour epics like War And Peace or The Best Of Youth, and there are lengthy sections, particularly the third part, which do sag, unnecessarily bringing this epic voyage almost to a standstill.
However, while it’s not edge-of-seat viewing for every single one of its 384 minutes, I can’t imagine how Lonesome Dove would have worked if it were any shorter. It doesn’t cover a story that spans years and decades like many other great epics, but once the credits have rolled for the last time after over six hours, I did look back and realise just how far the story had come from the start.
A humble tale of rangers moving away from their Texan roots and journeying to establish a ranch in the mysterious, untapped world of Montana in the north, the film takes you across staggering landscapes, beautifully captured in a style reminiscent of The Searchers, and shows to you the complexity and brutality of life in the Old West.
This isn’t an operatic, blockbuster-esque film like Spaghetti westerns including The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In The West, but it does give a captivating view of this iconic period of American history. Its runtime is testament to the vast geographical scale of the Old West, but there’s so much that happens which provides a gritty, uncompromising image of the era.
From the legacy of Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones’ Texas Rangers on their home community, to the constant warring between groups of bandits and innocent cattle herders, difficult political wrangling in the major settlements that the voyagers encounter on their journey, and the harsh realities of nature that threaten the lives of those aiming to make it up to Montana.
With so much time to flesh its story out, those key themes give an enthralling portrayal of the Wild West, while the screenplay has more than enough space to tell an emotionally riveting story of a group of friends, who bond, fall apart, and care for one another over the course of an unforgettable trip.
As long-time friends and colleagues, Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones give wonderful performances throughout Lonesome Dove. Their bond is the glue that holds the entire film together, and particularly in the film’s closing stages, their deeply genuine and intimate friendship will have you on the verge of tears.
Couple that with a captivating story about betrayal in the film’s first two and a bit parts, a heart-wrenching tale that follows a female friend (Diane Lane) who joins the rangers on their voyage, and moments of purely beautiful nostalgia and sentimentality for the memories that have been made over the years along the way, and you have a film absolutely overflowing with heart and soul.
With moments of captivating and often disturbingly dark action, Lonesome Dove pulls no punches, and certainly isn’t as rosy-eyed in its view of the Wild West as many other classic westerns. However, over the course of six hours, it’s actually a wonderfully pleasant film to watch.
With a patient, often relaxing pace, inspiring tales of friendship and loyalty, and some of the most beautiful, spectacular scenery you’ll ever see on film, watching Lonesome Dove is like sitting down with a good book by the fire, and reading it all in one sitting. It’s a special experience that, while not perfect all the way through, is a captivating, touching and memorable one. So, that’s why I’m giving Lonesome Dove a 7.7 overall.