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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Dawn Riders

July 23rd, 2012

Dawn Riders - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray, or Video on Demand

Dawn Riders is a remake of The Dawn Riders, a 1935 John Wayne Western. It is not among the best known or most beloved of The Duke's films, so remaking it shouldn't cause a major backlash. On the other hand, remaking won't come with a built in audience either. Is it worth checking out for fans of the genre? Or are there too many other Westerns that have come out recently that will overshadow this film?

First a note before we get to the review. I get a lot of movies to review. Some I really look forward to, others I've never heard of before I get an offer to review them. Others, like Dawn Riders, I've never heard of till after they land on my desk. This is an even more confusing movie to deal with, because I'm not sure when it comes out. It was a Walmart exclusive release on May 29th of this year. According to Amazon.com, the DVD and Blu-ray come out in general release on the 25th of September. However, it is already available on this site on Video on Demand. Waiting till September to review the DVD seems silly, so we might as well review it now to see if it is at least worth checking out on VOD.

The Movie

Christian Slater plays John Mason, a former lawman on the run being chased by Pop, a lawman looking to collect on a sizable bounty. He manages to evade them in the prologue, but Pop's been chasing him too long to let him get away now.

Meanwhile, a gang of masked bandits rob a stage coach... of the mail. This is the third time this gang has hit the wrong coach, and this time it cost them two of their men, while the sheriff was also shoot. John, still on the run, witnesses a card cheat and steps in to protect the would be victim, Stan McClure. Stan's headed to Promise, Wyoming, which is where John's father works as sheriff. The family reunion isn't a happy one and Dad first threatens to shoot John, but instead simply punches him. John does have a happier reunion with Alice Gordon. The pair were friends when they were kids, and John looks to rekindle that friendship, perhaps move it to the next level. That plan is made more complicated the next day when his father is assigned guard duty to the Pony Express. John, his father, and Stan are all hungover, but when Mr. Mason asks, Stan agrees to help out. Sadly, the masked bandits hit the Pony Express this time and Mr. Mason is shot. John comes into town just in time to chase off the bandits (getting shot in the process) and hear his father's dying words, "Dos Eques".

John is taken to Alice's house to recuperate. There he is reunited with Alice's brother, Rudd, who is...

We start running to major spoilers here. Although quite frankly, the movie spoils it as well, so it wouldn't be tragic if I kept going, but I'm still going to end the synopsis there. Dawn Riders is one of a spate of low budget Westerns and I've reviewed a few. Most are really bad. This one has a leg up on the competition for a couple reasons. Firstly, the acting is much, much better. While Christian Slater's script choices of late have been weak, he's still a very talented actor and he's good here. Jill Hennessy is excellent in the film and her character was the one with the most emotional depth to it. Donald Sutherland is only in the movie for a few minutes, but when he's on screen, he elevates the film. The film also looks great, especially compared to the average low-budget western. Granted, $5 million isn't exactly a tiny budget, but it costs a lot to make a film look like it was set in the 1800s.

On the down side, this movie doesn't do a lot that we haven't seen countless times before. The Dawn Riders, the 1935 original, was a pretty generic western to begin with and there are only a few changes made here. I do like how the gang leader had at least some justification for his actions, rather than just looking for quick money. The shades of gray helped lift the movie somewhat. Unfortunately, I think it was a mistake giving away too much too soon. The audience knows all the surprise twists, so it is just a matter of how they are going to play out and when. This isn't nearly as satisfying.

The Extras

The only extra on DVD is a 15-minute making of / behind-the-scenes featurette. It is a rather in-depth featurette and it is worth checking out. However, as the only extra, it is a little disappointing. I don't have the Blu-ray to review, so I can't compare technical specs, but there are no exclusive extras. I might get it in September and if so I'll judge the technical presentation then.

The Verdict

Dawn Riders is a good low-budget film, but not a great one. It is buoyed by a strong cast, but the script offers too many Western clichés to be fully engaging. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, so waiting probably isn't worth it. But renting on Video on Demand is a better deal.


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Filed under: Video Review, Dawn Rider