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By Jeremy Knox | June 30, 2006

As I was rifling through the stack of DVD’s I was going to review I came upon this title and at first glance I was sure that it must be some 70’s era spaghetti western. Reading the back of the case I was surprised to see that it was a 2002 indie release, and pleasantly surprised after watching the movie that the similarities didn’t end with the box art.

The acting is a bit wonky, veering between the occasional amateurish delivery and then some truly great moments; but this is one of those rare cases where I didn’t mind because the actors are so honest and open that it’s hard to find fault in their performance other than it being pressured by a rushed shooting schedule. The cinematography by Scott Fuller is amazing. It pushes the limitations of black and white 16mm to it’s very limit and proves that even on the teeny tiniest budget (8,000$ say the filmmakers) there is no good reason at all for a film to look like it was shot by a blind man.

Directors Jon Jacobs and Michael Kastenbaum don’t just copy old westerns but embody their essence and understand just about everything about the genre. It’s not enough to be a fan and lavishly copy the stories you love, you have to understand why the stories are told in the way they are. Jacobs and Kastenbaum do just that. They even acknowledge a theme that’s rarely addressed in westerns yet present in all of them; the cyclic nature of violence and how one act of killing, even when it’s justified, spirals out of control and devours everyone in its path.

Outlaw Jake Finney (Jon Jacobs) is being escorted through the desert on his way to the gallows by a sheriff’s posse; also being taken along to do the mid-air moonwalk are the whiny little bitch Steve West (Michael Kastembaum) and a mute Indian woman. However, Finney doesn’t plan on going out like a punk and so he carves a gun made out of wood, using it to trick his guards and escape.

Finney then runs off with West in tow, allowing the other man to tag along because he supposedly has 5 thousand dollars in gold hidden somewhere. However, we later see that it wasn’t just the gold; Finney has a grudging appreciation for West. As cold blooded as he can be when his back is against the wall, the gunslinger doesn’t enjoy killing and because West is genuinely incapable of such an act Finney feels an odd need to protect the man.

The writing is excellent, only West’s romance with a kind hearted girl comes off as underdeveloped and rushed. The direction is tight and focused; this above all is what saves the whole endeavor, there’s real talent at work here and everyone is trying their best to make the ghosts of John Ford and Sergio Leone proud. A lot (hell… MOST) low budget filmmakers use the old “If only I’d had more moneeeey…” excuse to explain why their film sucks when any damn fool can tell that no amount of dough would have fixed their crapfest; unless of course they’d used it to hire talented people to make the movie for them. But in the case of Wooden Gun more money wouldn’t have made a better film, simply smoothed out the rough edges of an already very impressive work. Yes, because of the budget you have to give a little, but unlike most micro-budget creations Wooden Gun never asks you to do all the work and meets you half-way.

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