Lonesome Dove (1989) (TV-mini)
At a time when the western genre arguably was at an all-time low and when nobody in the business really felt there was much more to say about those frontier, cowboying settling days, tv-producer Suzanne De Passe bought the rights to Larry McMurtry's extensive novel about two ageing former Texas Rangers who, after living many years quietly on a small ranch in Texas, decide to take their posse and go north to Montana to look for promised land. The production wasn't easy for De Passe to get going, but McMurtry eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, and the story was then launched as a CBS mini-series spanning four episodes of ninety minutes each.
One of many remarkable aspects of Lonesome Dove is its first-class cast, completely unprecedented for a tv-production. People stood in line to get into this, and the end product greatly profits from it. As opposed to most tv-productions, Lonesome Dove has a timelessness to it that makes it not only an outstanding production, but also an important document in the western genre timeline. It represents a new direction in westerns, more concerned with the human side and how these people got by than about events, showdowns and gunsmoke. Larry McMurtry discusses role conflicts, male friendship and unconventional love while backdropping his story against a tribute to the majestic open land of the west. There is nostalgia in here, but a toned down one. It's about ageing and maturing with decency, not bitterness or panache.
The number one key to Lonesome Dove's unique quality and wonderful narrative, is the depiction of the characters and its two lead protagonist in particular. Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call have a delightful mix of complementarity and incompatibility which serves as the foundation for their deep, implicit respect and love. The performances from Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are arguably career highs for both. Duvall, who has dubbed Gus McCrae his favourite role, makes us believe that a 24-year-old Diane Lane would really fall for him. That's not something many balding 60-year-olds could do.
The mini-series format is not the most common, and certainly not as reputable as a two-hour cinematic release. But for Lonesome Dove, it serves perfectly right for the story, and it gave tv-productions in general a lift. Still, in retrospect, Lonesome Dove won't be remembered for its format or for which medium it was released through, but simply for being one of the most nuanced and accomplished westerns of all time. A testimony to the fact that in the name of storytelling, a thrusting narrative and great characters will overshadow almost anything, and, last but not least, keep the viewer constantly engrossed.