“Do you own a horse?”
Because I was born and live in Texas, a friend of mine used to ask me that constantly. His assumption was that everyone in Texas wore a cowboy hat and rode a horse to work. That, of course, is not true. I imagine that you’re more likely to see people on horseback in Central Park than you are in downtown Dallas. As well, for the most part, if you see anyone wandering around Dallas wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, chances are that they’re from up north. Northerners love to come down to Dallas and see where Kennedy was shot and ask if everything really is bigger in Texas. It gets annoying after a while. Of course, I’d by lying if I said that there weren’t any cowboys in Texas. And yes, there are people down here who own horses. We’ve got our ranchers and our oilmen and our farmers. We just don’t have as many as people up in Minnesota seem to assume that we do.
And, to be honest, I’ve known a few cowboys. If you dig around my family tree, you’ll find a few people who have worked the rodeo circuit. For the most part, the cowboys I’ve known have been a proud group of people. They’re not really emotional and they might not spend much time on twitter but you can depend on them to get the job done without a lot of crying and that’s always kind of a nice thing.
As an actor, Michael Biehn has always seemed uniquely right for cowboy roles. He’s a low-key actor who doesn’t feel the need to always be the center of attention and who does his job with a minimum amount of fuss. What he does, he does well. Much like the best cowboys, an actor like Michael Biehn often gets taken for granted. Viewers just always assume that he’ll always be there, delivering laconic one-liners and viewing the world through weary but never defeated eyes.
Michael Biehn plays a cowboy in the 1997 film, The Ride. His name is Smokey Banks and he’s the type of character who, if you’ve ever spent any time at a rodeo, you’ll recognize immediately. He used to be one of the world’s greatest bull riders but now, he’s getting older. He still walks like a cowboy but he’s definitely moving a bit slower than he used to. He drinks too much. He spends too much time with the buckle bunnies. He’s like a downbeat country song come to life.
But fear not …. redemption is coming for Smokey. And, like all good redemption arcs, it all starts with being sentenced to community service. Smokey can either go to jail or he can go to a ranch and teach a bunch of boys how to be a cowboy. Along the way, he befriends a terminally ill, religious young man (Brock Pierce) who wants to learn how to ride a bull and he also ends up spending some time at a tent revival. Yes, it’s a religious film but, fortunately, it was made before the whole God’s Not Dead phenomenon so it never gets as preachy or apocalyptic as some other faith-based films. One gets the feeling that Smokey would find Kirk Cameron to be as annoying as the rest of us do.
It’s a sweet film. I mean, it’s not a movie that’s going to surprise you. It’s unapologetic about being sentimental but, at the same time, it’s such a good-natured film that it’s hard to really dislike it. Michael Biehn grounds the film with his typically low-key charm. Biehn turns Smokey into a real person and, as much as you might try to resist, it’s hard not to get swept up in his emotional journey. Considering that the film’s audience was probably limited to kids and church groups, Biehn easily could have gotten away with just phoning in his performance. That’s the sign of a good actor, though. Like the best cowboys, they’re good even when they don’t have to be.