From Akira Kurosawa's seminal Seven Samurai to the remake The Magnificent Seven, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to Unforgiven, Tombstone, Young Guns, Deadwood and No Country For Old Men, the Western has been around and been successful for some time. It just seems that Westerns don't go out of fashion. Ever. One of the last times I was able to spend endless hours playing a video game it was Red Dead Redemption and I loved it! They can encompass a wide variety of styles and therefore draw a wide variety of viewer.
Here I detail my seven favorite recent, modern Westerns in anticipation of Antoine Fuqua's version of The Magnificent Seven. I have high hopes for this new version with a stellar cast that almost matches the original Magnificent Seven and plenty of action typical of Fuqua's style; I loved his work in Training Day and The Equalizer.
7. Hell Or High Water (2016)
What better way to start off than with this wonderful film? Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) are brothers robbing local banks and have arrived on the radar of wizened old Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). The pacing is spot on, keeping the action and the story rolling along. The dialogue is particularly good, from the word go with the first bank robbery the teller gives as good verbally as she is getting, to the back-and-forth between the Rangers on the boys' trail; it all works so well. The highlight of this film though is the relationship between the brothers, they compliment and contrast each other brilliantly.
A great climax and payoff means this film delivers on all levels, even the soundtrack is of a high standard and fits superbly into the world the film has created.
6. The Salvation (2014)
Directed by Kristian Levring, this Western tells the story of Jon Jensen, played excellently by Mads Mikkelsen, waiting his wife and son to arrive from overseas. He welcomes them to the West, but they soon fall foul of a local villain Paul Delarue, just released from prison, who attacks and kills both his wife and son. Jon manages to wreak revenge on Paul and his compatriot. Unfortunately, this is beset by Paul's older brother Henry arriving on the scene and taking exception to his brother's killing. What follows is a town in fear of Henry, who sell Jon out to save themselves.
The Salvation is a beautifully shot film with some great performances from the leads even though the scope remains fairly small, never straying far from the town of Black Creek.
5. & 4. Django Unchained (2012) And The Hateful Eight (2015)
You wouldn't be able to have a collection of recent Westerns without including these films. You know what you are going to get with Quentin Tarantino — plenty of great dialogue, great characters, really evil villains and brutal, brutal displays of violence. He certainly has a way of making his films stand out and he does so here with both of these excellent films.
Django Unchained follows the titular protagonist as he attempts to reclaim his wife after being enslaved. This leads to fighting against the odds, against the system to claim what was rightfully his. Excellent dialogue again, great action and wonderful vistas pepper this film. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz carry this film for a large majority of it, but the addition of Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson (of course) and Kerry Washington raise this to another level.
The Hateful Eight is narrower in scope but none the less powerful. Trapped in a snowed-in cabin, The Eight are set against each other as the plot to free a prisoner is slowly uncovered. Again, the dialogue is top notch, the acting wonderful and the suspense and story development are wonderful to watch. The ever-present Samuel L. Jackson ramps it up again, interacting with a rejuvenated Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen (other Tarantino favorites), and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Again, it is beautiful to watch even though you don't get to see a lot of the scenery, the amount of detail in every shot seems staggering.
3. True Grit (2010)
A great journey of a story following a young girl, Mattie Ross, played exceptionally by Hailee Steinfeld, as she enlists a drunken US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (played with aplomb by Jeff Bridges) as they try to hunt down Tom Chaney, played by Josh Brolin, who killed her father. Mattie is old beyond her years and is quite a force of nature as she keeps Rooster on track. Matt Dillon, as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf joins them on their quest as he is also after Tom Chaney for other reasons. Cogburn is a great example of the reluctant hero, a man with nothing left but goes on this quest to try to reclaim some of his past.
2. The Proposition (2005) And Bone Tomahawk (2015)
I couldn't choose between these two so I have decided to include them both! They are totally different in their approaches but equally good.
The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoate and written by Nick Cave, blew me away when I first saw it. Gritty, uncompromising and set in rural Australia, it follows the fate of the Burns brothers after they rape and murder a colonial family. Captain Stanley, played by Ray Winstone, has managed to capture two of them — Charlie and Mike. Arthur, the eldest brother and leader of their gang (Danny Huston), is on the run and is hiding in the mountains. Capt. Stanley's proposition to Charlie (Guy Pearce) is to gain a pardon and save his younger brother from the gallows by finding and killing Arthur. Antiheroes don't come more defined than Charlie. A great little film.
Bone Tomahawk starts out as a standard Western but then breaks into a Western-horror with the introduction of the main enemy to the assembled posse. Their mission is to rescue the wife of Arthur (Patrick Wilson) after she was taken by unknown elements. With a cast including Kurt Russell as Sheriff Franklin Hunt (who seems to earn a decent living from Westerns, from his appearances here, in The Hateful 8 and Tombstone), Matthew Fox as John Brooder (a bit of a fancy dan gunslinger who loves himself quite a lot) and Richard Jenkins as Deputy Sheriff Chicory. Again, there are some great visuals, some not-so-friendly camaraderie and some pretty dire situations. The film doesn't have quite the split-personality as From Dusk Till Dawn, but the switch in direction is still quite drastic and makes for a memorable film.
1. Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
I'm going to throw in a curve ball, but I think that The Guardians of the Galaxy would fit nicely into the Western genre. It's all there to see: A group of outcasts and misfits come together tom eventually, help a group of civilized people — mainly those on Nova Prime — to combat a chaotic and lawless adversary (Ronan the Accuser), a wide-sweeping scope, great visuals, shootouts, bounty hunters and strong characters. The once unlawful group of antiheroes show strong moral values in their quest to right the wrongs that have been set in motion and have the desire and courage to put their lives at risk in order to save the day.
The more I think about this, the more I realize that it fits so well into the Western genre, even if it is located in outer space, but this film still fits into the wide vistas and open spaces of the old American West.
It seems that there is going to be no let up in the story of the Western, it just keeps on going, being revitalized and rejuvenated and reinvented.
Imminently we have the release of The Magnificent 7, which promises to be big, bold, brash, action-packed and fun. I can't wait to see it. A bit further down the line there is an excellent book adaptation of the Man Booker shortlisted The Sisters Brothers. I have read and loved the book by Patrick deWitt and this film is being directed by none other than Jacques Audiard. I've seen a couple of his more recent films, but if he manages to get any of the feeling, emotion and realism that he gets into Un Prophet and Dheepan, along with action and tension, then The Sisters Brothers is going to be a great film.
In the TV world we have Westworld on the horizon. Created by HBO, it looks fantastic, has a great cast and no doubt will be a visual feast and a true TV event.
These big Western-themed events will no doubt precipitate a new rash of Western genre films, and if they are to keep up the quality from the ones listed above them I will be very eager to see them.
Watch the trailer for The Magnificent Seven below: