To cast the film, descriptions of each character’s physical looks and temperament were lifted from the novel and put into a short synopsis for casting director Lynn Kressel who then distributed the sheets to actors’ agents. On this sheet, Robert Duvall had been selected to play the role of Gus, but the parts of Call and Lorena had not yet been cast. Tommy Lee Jones and Diane Lane later filled these positions.
Between them, Gus and Call exhibit the characteristics of an ideal Western man. Co-executive producer and screenwriter Bill Wittliff wrote of the cast’s desire for authenticity “. . . all the actors were . . . absolutely dedicated to it . . . nobody wanted to step away from Larry’s great classic.”
Don Graham, professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote “The book is kind of a buddy movie, which is a constant in American literature, going back to . . . James Fenimore Cooper. They’re close friends on a grand adventure. They know the West is over, and they are doing this as a last hurrah.”