J W Coop (1971)


(director: Cliff Robertson; screenwriter: Gary Cartwright; cinematographer: Frank Stanley; editor: Alex Beaton; music: Don Randi/Louie Shelton; cast: Cliff Robertson (J.W. Coop), Geraldine Page (Mama), Cristina Ferrare (Bean), R.G. Armstrong (Jim Sawyer), R.L. Armstrong (Tooter Watson), John Crawford (Rancher), Wade Crosby (Billy Sol Gibbs); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Cliff Robertson; Columbia Pictures; 1972)

“Robertson’s effortless natural performance is the film’s best asset.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This well-made but insignificant drama works best as a moody character study western. Veteran actor Cliff Robertson’s (“The Pilot”) directorial debut also has him playing the lead and is the producer. It’s a labor of love personal film that captures the depressive atmosphere of the decaying rural southwest even better than Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, but gets bogged down in screenwriter Gary Cartwright’s unhip and sullen narrative. It follows along the same nostalgia rodeo circuit grind already covered by Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner (1972), but is not as dramatically rewarding. Robertson’s effortless natural performance is the film’s best asset.

After a ten-year prison stretch for passing a bum check, a low-key disorientated former rodeo star, J.W. Coop (Cliff Robertson), gets released and discovers he must now acclimate himself to a much changed America as he tries to make it again on the rodeo circuit as a rider and becomes obsessed to win the national championship—second place is not an option. The only thing that remains the same is his overbearing wacky fundamentalist Christian mom (Geraldine Page) nagging him on his visit home, yet Coop soon realizes that nothing that changed amounts to much. On the rodeo circuit Coop hooks up with the hippie Bean (Cristina Ferrare) and has an awkward relationship with her that embarrassingly reveals how out of touch both Coop and the film are with modern times.

The story is slight, but it more than adequately zeroes in on the drifter character played by Robertson without any false notes. By the end, we have a pretty good idea what propels Coop and how he’s flustered over dealing with a cold and cynical world that has passed him by. The rodeo action scenes look authentic because they were shot at actual rodeo competitions.