Artwork by Laurel Delaney
The western genre has captivated audiences for decades. It is a genre that is as old as film itself, one which has been reshaped, subverted, and elaborated over time. While much attention has been drawn to the famous Westerns of the past- from John Wayne to Clint Eastwood- I would like to offer a list of some lesser-known or underrated post-2000 westerns. Therefore, this list does not include any works of Quentin Tarnatino or recent highly-regarded masterpieces such as The Revenant and There Will Be Blood or fantastic remakes such as True Grit and 3:10 to Yuma. I included films that take place during the 1800s. Many of these are considered revisionist westerns, which question the ideals of the traditional western through their cynical, realistic tones, and re-focus on previously marginalized characters such as women, Native Americans and Mexicans. Through their historical authenticity, they critique the consequences of the era’s hegemonic masculinity. (Although, some of these take on quirky or __ tones)
SLOW WEST (2015)
The merit’s of Slow West were perfectly summed up already by Screenqueens, in Chloe’s review. Written and directed by John Mcclean, the story focuses on a young man who travels from Scotland to America to find where his true love has relocated. His naïve and hopeful earnestness focuses him on the arduous journey. He is not alone, for a charismatic and handsome cowboy helps him along the way, Michael Fassbender is perfectly cast in this role. The pair meet adversaries along the way, a group of bounty hunters led by the always impressive Ben Mendelhson. This unique western brings dark, humorous and quirky romance set against the backdrop of the Old West feels like the Coen brothers meets Wes Anderson. The final shootout is a gory, comedic revelation. Filmed in New Zealand, Mcclean crafts the Old West as a fantastical world, the shining yellow wheat fields juxtapose strongly against the lush blue expansive skies.
THE DARK VALLEY (2014)
Andreas Prochaska directs this Austrian-German western set in the Austrian Alps. Sam Riley embodies the strong, silent type of Westerns old playing a dark and brooding stranger named Grieder who visits a small, remote village with a cult-like inhabitants. He soon learns that the town is under the dominion of an aged rich man named Old Brenner and his six violent and sociopathic sons. Slowly, the film reveals the nature of the strangers origins and the secrets that lurk beneath this town. In this gripping revenge story, the nature of the town’s leaders and control is unfolded as we discover the type of pain and chaos they have wreaked on the women for generations. As most westerns do, The Dark Valley takes advantage of its landscape. The haunting, smoky greys of the mist-shrouded mountains lend the film a Gothic atmosphere which reflects the ending’s gruesome revelations. A darkness truly hangs over the town. Also, the film has a unique modern soundtrack, the most notable song One Two Three Cheers & A Tiger’s “Sinnerman.” I highly recommend this hidden gem.
THE HOMESMAN (2014)
I have previously reviewed The Homesman on Screenqueens found here. But I still want to include it on this list. The Homesman is noteworthy for its direct interrogations into women’s lives during the Old West, their place in society and the limited roles dictated to them. After three women go mad due to harsh circumstances, such as rape and child loss, they are sent to go across the frontier to a church that cares for the mentally ill. Hilary Swank plays Mary Bee, a plain but headstrong woman who volunteers to transport them. Along the way she encounters a cantankerous criminal played by Tommy Lee Jones, who she enlists to help her. The Homesman shows the devastating repercussions of that era’s callousness towards women.
THE MISSING (2003)
This Ron Howard film may be more the most well-known on this list, but it is still worth noting. Cate Blanchett, who is as incredible as she always is, plays a mother named Maggie whose daughter is kidnapped, her captors planning to see her into slavery and prostitution in Mexico. Maggie enlists the help of her estranged father, played wonderfully by the ever-grumpy Tommy lee Jones. Although the film never makes clear if Tommy Lee Jones is a white man living as an Apache, or from bi-racial parents, (this would be another case of unfortunate whitewashing) the film was praised by the US Native Americans for its use of historically accurate Chiricahua language. The Missing is an enthralling combination of familial melodramatics, fantastical mysticism, revenge, and feminist politics. While this amalgam off-put many critics, I found it a worthwhile addition to post-2000 westerns.
Sweetwater was largely panned by critics and will likely not appeal to everyone. However, I found myself oddly enjoying this silly, violent western. Sweetwater is a female vengeance story centered around a former prostitute, played by January Jones, (a divisive actress, many feel she is too wooden to carry a film) attempts to rebuild her life with her husband. However, once she catches the eye of a sadistic religious leader, her husband his murdered. Her course of vengeance is assisted by a renegade and sociopathic sheriff, magnificently and giddily played by Ed Harris, who delights in this comically sinister character. Sweetwater’s commentary on gender politics leaves a lot to be desired, the film is not aiming to dig deep in its flashy comic-book and pulpy style. While the over-the-top acting and cartoony characters (or in January Jones’ case, underacting) may not appeal to all, I appreciated its unique tone and comical take on religious zealots.
By Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.