I’m a big western fan, not too many of my generation are, it’s usually seen as a genre that our dads used to watch on a Sunday afternoon while we sat around bored. But for the most part, those of my generation who do enjoy westerns usually rediscovered them in our teens, when we came across more badass examples of the genre; well, that’s certainly how I and many of my friends came across them.
Time was, the western represented a huge percentage of Hollywood’s total output, a trend that went right through to the 1970’s where such people as Sergio Leone and Sam Peckimpah twisted the genre into a new shape. But then things stopped, the western stopped performing at the box office and since the 1980’s we can only expect a western every few years, and even then, the odds of it doing well are slim.
The thing is, of the sparse amount of westerns released, the majority of them are actually really good films. In the last ten years alone there have been many great westerns of note, be they modern-day set films with an unmistakably western bent, such as the Coen’s No Country For Old Men and Tommy Lee Jones’s excellent The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, as well as sc-fi westerns like Joss Weadon’s Serenity.
But it’s the good old-fashioned western, set back in the day that I’m placing my attention with this article. Classic feeling westerns made within the last tens years, and as is standard with these articles my choices are based on nothing but my own opinions, so agree or not, hopefully there will be something to take as a recommendation, and who knows, if you’re not a big fan of the genre, maybe there’s something here that will change your mind.
Open Range: A small group of free grazers (that would be cattlemen that run their cattle through open land) find themselves near a town run by a cattle-baron that doesn’t take well to their kind, well, he kills them and claims their livestock. This doesn’t sit well with our free grazers, who will keep what’s theirs even if it means cleaning up town to do so.
Not only is Open Range one of my favourite contemporary westerns, but one of my all time favourite films. It didn’t do well on its initial release, one assumes, because it’s a Kevin Costner production, which at the time were assumed bloated and overlong, but to my mind is his best work. Full of old-timey wisdom, badass action and one of the best performances in Robert Duvall’s stellar career, Open Range has absolutely no pretensions and remains a film that I recommend to anybody I can push it onto.
Seraphim Falls: A desperate civil war veteran is on the run with a rough an’ ready posse on his tail, but as the cat and mouse game goes on, reasons come to light and sympathies change, and it seems a bloody resolution is the only conclusion.
Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan wouldn’t be the first names that come to mind when casting a western, but those preconceptions are dashed minutes into this hard and remorseless film. It’s a classic tale of grizzly revenge but come the end it takes a turn for the near abstract, suggesting that what you’re watching may not be what’s going on. It may not seem it at first, but I’d say Seraphim Falls is the thinking man’s western, with several dollops of badassness.
3:10 to Yuma: A small-time rancher, witnessing a stage coast heist, finds himself responsible for the captured ringleader for a $200 reward, but soon makes an oath to himself that, come what may, the ringleader will be on the titular train which will take him to trial, if only to prove his own worth and integrity.
With great-big blockbuster stars such as Russell Crow and Christian Bale, it’s hard not to think that 3:10 to Yuma, a superior remake, wasn’t one of these occasional attempts to popularise the western. It wasn’t successful in that respects but at the least was an enjoyable romp with a truly classic feel, and is never better than when Ben Foster is camping it up while being hard as nails.
Appaloosa: Two gunmen are hired to police a small town that is being crippled by an unscrupulous rancher, but when a young, manipulative woman is thrown into the mix, almost every situation becomes volatile.
Actor, Ed Harris, has only ever directed two films and Appaloosa is one of them, but such a solid film is it, visually and otherwise, that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t gone on to do more. That aside, with actors like Himself, Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Irons it was always going to be rife with gravitas, and without doubt it’s a slow burning, laid back look at the Old West, but it’s immensely entertaining and has probably the most realistic gun-fight you’re ever likely to see.
True Grit: A fourteen-year-old girl hires a grizzled, old marshal to track the man that murdered her father, but insists on riding along with him, despite his apprehension.
This remake of the John Wayne classic was absolutely adored by the critics, but playing devils advocated, I’d suggest it perhaps wasn’t worthy of such universal appreciation, especially as it’s no better than the other films on this list, and more especially as it’s not that much different from the original, but that said, good’s good and a good story well executed is always worth a see. Does Jeff Bridges play a better Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne? Watch both films and decide for yourself.
Still not convinced? Give the titles of the films a click and watch the trailers, see if they do anything for ya, short of that I’ve done all I can for the cause, now it’s up to you, give ‘em a try, at the very least you’ll have something you can watch with your dad.