Tom Berenger in Johnson County War (2002)

The Hammett Brothers

Trouble is brewing in Johnson County with the arrival of Lord Peter (Christopher Cazenove) whose wealth and connections lead to gun man Hunt Lawton (Burt Reynolds) being hired as sheriff by the governors. But Lawton is on the side of Lord Peter and along with his men lead by Jesse Jacklin (Jack Conley) are turning the screw on the settlers and ranchers to get them out of the area, liberally making out they were rustling to serve their own law on them. But in the midst of all this are the Hammett brothers; the respected Cain (Tom Berenger), his sheep farming brother Dale (Adam Storke) and the not always innocent Harry (Luke Perry). Refusing to be bullied off of the land which is rightly theirs they make a stand whilst dealing with their own issues such as Cain having always been in love with Dale's wife Rory (Michelle Forbes).

I like me a good western mini-series, the scope that 3 hours offers a western drama often means we have everything from characters and great landscapes through to an engaging drama and various subplots. Unfortunately when it comes to "Johnson County War" there is something lacking which stops it from being a 3 hour western which you would want to watch again. It is a shame as whilst this is a fictionalized drama about the real "Johnson County War" it has all the story aspects you expect especially from a western which features Larry McMurtry's in amongst the writing credits.

Jack Conley in Johnson County War (2002)

So I just mentioned Larry McMurtry and anyone who has encountered earlier western mini-series such as "Lonesome Dove" will know what to expect from "Johnson County War". Firstly we have the main storyline, the simmering tension in Johnson County with Lord Peter and those in his employment turning the screw on the ranchers & settlers who share the open range. All of which builds with people being killed until the situation boils over and all out war starts. But alongside this we have the personal subplots which include jealousy between brothers, old grievances, scores to settle and plenty more which gives it that aspect of being a western soap opera but with more class.

The trouble with "Johnson County War" is that they cast some wrong people in the movie who do their best but don't sit naturally for me in this sort of western. One of those is Burt Reynolds who fails to convince as a man who looks like he has lived a tough life by the gun and should be feared, it makes scenes where he is supposed to be threatening not come across as such. Then there is Luke Perry as the handsome young Harry and whilst he has an enjoyable lightness to his performance it is out of place in this sort of western as is Christopher Cazenove whose Lord Peter is too much of a caricature. These few performances and a couple of others distract from the good ones which include Tom Berenger, Jack Conley and Michelle Forbes who all look at home in a western, giving their characters that sense of having lived the life.

What this all boils down to is that whilst entertaining "Johnson County War" doesn't achieve the same level of atmosphere which other western mini-series have achieved despite having a good story at its heart. But despite not being as great as I hoped it is worthy watching especially for those who are more interested in being entertained rather than gritty realism.