Gunless puts a spin on the typical Western by having its gunfighter placed in a situation he’s not familiar with: Canada. Up here, the “showdown at dawn” doesn’t exactly fly, and many of the gags in this comedy revolve around the expectations of a typical Western being thwarted by the quaint, gentle nature of the people of the Great White North. This ain’t no Wild West; here, the people won’t shoot one another just because of a misunderstanding.
However, this is all news to the “Montana Kid” (Paul Gross), who arrives in town with a noose around his neck and a tree branch dragging behind him. He had been hung, luckily on a decaying tree, and survived. His horse, whom he loves very dearly and talks to whenever possible, dragged him all the way to a small town in the Rockies, despite being badly injured. While the Montana Kid, whose real name is Sean, is getting patched up by the doctor, a blacksmith goes about tending to his horse. These heathens didn’t even ask, so obviously they’re bad people. Sean decides that the blacksmith, Jack (Tyler Mane), needs to be taught a lesson, so he challenges him to a duel.
The problem with that is that nobody in town has a pistol. They have shotguns for the birds, and rifles for hunting, but no pistols. Only a lady named Jane (Sienna Guillory), possesses one, although it’s in severe disrepair. She offers to trade it for some manual labor, and soon enough, the town grows on Sean, and he finds himself liking the people. All except Jack, whom he swears will be soon given the fixed pistol so that a duel can take place.
The film works to subvert your expectations, just like it does to the character that Gross plays. When three men, each holding a gun, meet him outside of the local shop, you expect something serious to go down. No, they just think that it’s exciting, and they’re going to offer him the guns so that the duel can commence. Of course, there’s one character who ends every sentence with “eh?,” but I figure that’s done as a loving gesture to the stereotype, considering he’s the only one to do that.
Gunless is a very Canadian production, and while not known for it, there is a certain sense of humor that Canadians have. If you’ve seen the fantastic show Corner Gas, that’s about the most well-known production I can think would be likened to this film. Being Canadian, I found it to be quite funny. There were a few misfires, sure, but what comedy is funny for the entire way through? Gunless flew by like a breeze, its 90 minute running time feeling like it went by in just a few seconds, all because I was constantly laughing.
Where I had to take issue with it is in the way it concludes its main story, Sean vs. Jack. It is, indeed, finished with a single shot, but not in the way that you’d think. You laugh in the moment but then realize how much time was spent building up to it, and that it needed to be something more. At least, that’s what I thought at first, but then I figured how Sean had grown as a character by this point, and how the ending to that storyline actually does fit. I suppose the film gives you something to think about, at the very least, even if its main conclusion isn’t satisfactory.
There is only one big shootout scene, which comes right near the end and features villains whom we’d previously seen only a couple of times previously. A group of bounty hunters have been chasing Sean since the beginning of the film — although we don’t see them until midway through — and want him dead or alive. This leads to a great shootout involving the entire town, again, in a way you wouldn’t initially expect.
Paul Gross is not an action hero, which makes him almost the perfect man to play a character who likes to think he’s a whole lot tougher than he is. He can wave his gun around and be impressive, but this archetypal cowboy rarely has to do any fighting. Instead, he gets to play the straight man, someone who can’t believe what’s going on all around him. Everyone else is “crazy,” even though most of them are just going about their business like normal.
He mumbles his lines way too often, though, which is a problem. It’s sometimes difficult to understand what he’s saying, even when he’s the only one talking. His character does have more depth than is initially anticipated, though, which makes for a pleasant surprise. Sienna Guillory does nothing to make her love interest stand out, while everyone else just kind of fades into the background, save for Callum Keith Rennie who shows up to be the real bad guy — the leader of the bounty hunters.
Look, Gunless is a funny Canadian Western that will make you laugh if you enjoy the subversion of Western tropes or Canadian humor. It has some very minimalistic approaches to its setting, some solid costumes, and enough humor to make it go by in a breeze, even if it does feel anticlimactic in its main story. It takes the understood rules of the Wild West and flips them on their head. It doesn’t have great acting, but it doesn’t really need to, either. It sets a modest goal and is successful in achieving it. I quite enjoyed it, and I’ll recommend it to you, too.