Knight turns from Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger (Johnnie D., 2000), to badass wildman director Sam Peckinpah, here called Sam Bonner in an allusion to his gentlest film, Junior Bonner, with Steve McQueen as an aging rodeo drifter.
The wife of legendary alcoholic Sam Bonner, Sara, 30, has three months to live: leukemia. So Sam, 50, takes her on a cross-country death-trip by Cadillac convertible through God’s country, Coors country, where he grew up—and it’s bleak. He’s not made a picture in five years, but scenes from the making of all of his works rise up. Sara is taking Percodan, Dilaudid, and 12 aspirin a day. Sam says, “We’re like birds with broken wings, trying to make our way across all the emptiness.” It’s the black side of Love Story with radiation burn, vomit, face swelling, bones fragile, hair falling out. Utah etherizes them. When he met her she’d been waitressing, though she had a degree in creative writing. After cost-cutting ruined his Billy the Kid picture, Sam grew so angry at the dailies that he got up on a chair and pissed on the screen. Now, the two visit the graves of Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Pretty Boy Floyd, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok. As pain deepens, Sara lusts to suicide. In Shamrock, Texas, they pass a WCTU billboard: Beer is the Doorway to Alcoholism. Sam thinks beer makes the world a better place. At a street carnival in Oklahoma, in a breeze under the stars, they sit unmoving at the top of a Ferris wheel, holding hands, then hugging. The Ferris wheel reminds Sara of when she was 16: “I knew I was never going to die.” But when she does, grieving Sam spends six weeks writing his script for The Far Side of Heaven. Bill Holden and Ali McGraw sign on to play Sam and Sara.
The blue air of the novel darkens, turns turquoise, azure, cobalt, blue skies falling: a richly done mock documentary