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‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’ Review: The Most Important Movie Ever Made

A Million Ways to Die in the West
Universal Pictures

Unfathomable that its release date won’t coincide with what is usually considered Oscar season, ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ – a small, quiet film about hardship and self discovery – is being released into theaters during a time that is usually reserved for excruciating nonsense. It’s interesting that ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West,’ a film that is not funny, is being promoted as a comedy. I suspect it has a lot to do with the human carnage we witness on screen being unbearable to watch, so the only way to desensitize an audience’s eyes to what they’re about to witness is to somehow convince the viewer that what they’re about to see is a comedy – even though there is not one laugh to be had. No, ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ is much more important than that. In fact, ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ may just be the most depressing two hours of narrative that this generation has ever witnessed on a movie screen.

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ stars an actor named Seth MacFarlane (‘Tooth Fairy,’ Oscar host) as a sheep farmer named Albert Stark. Now, before getting too in-depth into the plot of the film, it may come as a surprise that MacFarlane also directed this movie, giving the entire preceding a distinct stench of macabre stiltedness, in both performance and direction, which completely underscores the misery that the viewer is supposed to feel while watching this movie.

Albert Stark is a complex character. Case in point: He’s presented as man with no personality, yet some of the most attractive women in the world – played by Charlize Theron (‘The Astronaut’s Wife’) and Amanda Seyfried (‘In Time’) – vie for his companionship. There’s no real explanation for this phenomena, but that’s why this movie is so intellectually stimulating: It’s up to us, the viewer, to figure out how in the world that could happen. A cynic might point out that maybe MacFarlane — as the director, star and writer of this movie — may have placed himself in that situation for personal reward, but that’s why ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ isn’t a movie for cynics, or anyone else really.

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ is set in 1882 Arizona, though the film deftly nullifies any potential fun that a true Western could have been by making all of the characters speak as if they were all from the future. There will be no joy found in this movie. Even Neil Patrick Harris, who plays a rival named Foy, has his considerable talent wisely stifled by MacFarlane’s direction – instead, having Harris recite his popular ‘How I Met Your Mother’ catchphrase “challenge accepted,” which obviously represents the mundane lifestyle of the 1880s compared to the routines of our present-day digital lifestyles — a shrewd choice by MacFarlane.

To even attempt an interpretation of the plot of ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ would be an act in futility. MacFarlane has masterfully devised a plot so rich that, at closer inspection, it could be conceived that there’s really not much of a plot at all.

MacFarlane even managed to get a subdued performance from Liam Neeson (‘The Phantom Menace’) as the outlaw, Clinch. And it’s almost impossible to get a subdued performance from Liam Neeson these days … yet, somehow, MacFarlane pulled this off, too.

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ is a difficult movie to watch. And, to be honest, the anguish that it causes the viewer while watching Neil Patrick Harris’ Foy having to defecate into a hat and then defecate into that same hat again and then another hat entirely is no laughing matter. At one point, Albert Stark makes a joke about one of his sheep becoming a prostitute, resulting in much laughter from Anna (Theron), while the audience sits in despair. It’s a brilliant contrast between what these characters find funny under their desperate circumstances and what we, the audience, find painful.

I can say with all sincerity that I did not laugh one time during ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West.’ And it takes a gifted filmmaker to pull off such a brazen display of unfunny in a film with a plot and cast that could have easily garnered at least one laugh had it been directed by literally any other director. It’s THAT remarkable what Seth MacFarlane has accomplished here and this movie should be remembered for time eternal so we might never have to see this kind of gut-wrenching devastation put forward onto our society ever again.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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