Paul Gross stars in Gunless
The Scope is proud to present its latest excerpt of the ongoing Western serial, The Dark Cinema. In this latest chapter, Adam Clarke, the High-West’s most fearsome critic, has a run-in with notorious Canadian film rustlers Paul Gross and Bill Phillips to discuss their new movie, Gunless, and the enduring myth of the Western.
In my many years as a film critic, I have seen plenty of ridiculous things in films about the Ol’ West. I’ve seen at least five different films called Django 2. I’ve even seen some talkin’ mice headin’ for the U.S. of A.
Yet, the most ridiculous thing I may have encountered was in a clip from the upcoming film, Gunless: celebrated Canadian actors Paul Gross and Callum Keith Rennie as a couple of cowboys ready to have a showdown.
What in tarnation would Canadians be doing in a Western?
Crossing many hot, stinging stretches of desert to answer this question, I came to settle in a one-horse town that was home to Gunless writer-director Bill Phillips and actor Paul Gross (Passchendaele, Due South).
The film is about a rough and tumble outlaw, The Montana Kid, played by Gross, who is accidentally brought to Canada. Bill Phillips says the project came about from his admiration of the Western genre.
“I wrote it six years ago, and I can remember that specifically because my daughter is six years old now, and I wrote the first draft of the screenplay while she was bundled up in a little carrier strapped to me,” Phillips says.
Six years seems like a long time to wait to make a movie, but the young writer-director had to face a lot of fancy talk about Westerns being unprofitable, despite receiving praise for the script. Eventually, he got the green-light.
Phillips, whose previous credits include the quiet, indy thriller Treed Murray and 2003’s caper flick Foolproof, has a contagious enthusiasm about the various genres of cinema. Having just completed Gunless, he is currently writing a ghost story and an adaptation of Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness.
For Paul Gross, cool threads were a big part of the Western’s appeal. “I saw the opportunity to wear a gun and ride a horse,” the actor says. “I always liked old Westerns and I saw in this the opportunity to do one,” Gross adds, praising Phillips’ script.
“First and foremost, I wanted to draw from the expectations and plot elements associated with the genre,” Phillips says, “but I’m a Canadian filmmaker and I would definitely put that funny stamp on it. We’re not working with huge budgets here. There’s no secret bank account with scads of money hidden away. We just stretch the dollar for as far as it’ll go. If you’re going to make a Western, you might as well go whole-hog rather than attempt to slap a Western backdrop to a standard Canadian film.”
“It’s not a form that’s natural to us,” Gross interjects. “It’s an invented mythology of the Americans and it’s not part of our cultural background. That’s why I think what Bill did was so smart, since he took all of those elements and dropped them in a place where they don’t work.”
Before I skeedaddled, there was one thing I had to ask the men: What’s their favourite Western?
Gross cites High Plains Drifter and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid while Phillips picks the aforementioned Sundance, Unforgiven and the Gregory Peck vehicle, Big Country.
Satisfied with their choices, I tipped my hat to the gentlemen and rode off into the moonlight to return to the sunny beaches of Newfoundland.