The Western genre is going to be well presented in 2016, with the release of films such as The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Jane Got a Gun, The Free State of Jones and Brimstone all due to be released this year. So what better way to look forward to these impending releases then to look back on some of the western films that sort of flew under the radar that you should give a watch. The one rule being only films released after the year 2000. Ready?…Draw
Blackthorn – (Dir. Mateo Gill, 2012)
Imagine if Butch Cassidy didn’t die in a shootout with members of the Bolivian army in 1908? Imagine if he was still living in South America long after this year? Well that is the premise of this Western film set in South America. Acting stalwart Sam Shepard stars as Butch Cassidy, now going by the name James Blackthorn, as an older man living in isolation in Bolivia. After these years on his own Blackthorn has a strong desire to return home and to see his nephew for the first time. During his preparations he runs across a Spanish engineer who shoots at him, Blackthorn looses his horse and all his money with no way to get home. The engineer Eduardo Apodaca however wants to make amends, he has hidden some stolen money in an abandoned mine and promises to share it with Blackthorn if he helps him get there and keeps him alive from the people pursuing him.
Blackthorn is nice little revisionist western film that plays with the idea that Butch Cassidy is still alive and well living in Bolivia. Sam Shepard is perfect as the ageing outlaw who lives life a touch differently now, and Eduardo Noriega is also fantastic as the Spanish engineer Eduardo Apodeca who seeks the help of Blackthorn. But what is even better than the acting here is the beautiful landscape that the story takes place in. Shot on location in Bolivia we are treated to a diverse, rarely seen grand scenery that provides a wonderful backdrop that substitutes well for old American West. Check it out!
The Warriors Way – (Dir. Sngmoo Lee, 2010)
Yang is a member of the Sad Flutes clan, a group of assassins in 19th century Asia, but after refusing to kill the last member of an enemy clan, a baby girl, he exiles himself and flees to the American West. Yang heads to the dilapidated town of Lode, looking for an old warrior friend only to learn he has died. Remaining in Lode is an old carnival and the people who worked for it. The town itself has a tragic history, and part of that history is back as a horrible Colonel who is looking to terrorise the town and its inhabitants, but Yang looks to stand in his way. But to make matters worse the Sad Flutes are hot on the tails of Yang as well, and there is going to be one hell of a showdown.
As far as Westerns go this is unlike any you have seen. It’s a strange blend of glossy American West meets Asian martial arts that provides some absolutely bonkers action and story full of visual goodness, and to be honest it’s quite fun. If you are able to utilise suspension of disbelief then you can have a lot of fun with this film. It also stars the utterly awesome Geoffrey Rush, so what are you waiting for?
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – (Dir. Yves Simoneau, 2007)
Based on the book by Dee Brown that recounts the horrific injustices of Native Americans in the Nineteenth Century, this HBO made-for-television film covers only a couple of chapters of the sprawling book. The adaptation looks at the attempts of the American government to place the Native Americans onto reservations, use their land, and assimilate them into American society, as well as the resistance made by Sitting Bull to the opposed changes.
Once again this is not your typical Western film, your gun-toting cowboys are replaced by the political machinations of the period and is grossly interesting. Reading this book, and watching this adaptation can be eye opening experiences if your knowledge of the American West is limited. It puts to shame the portrayal of Native Americans in older films, and it is also an educational watch. Though the film is really good, do yourself a favour and read the book as well, it’s a sad and haunting read.
Seraphim Falls (Dir. David Von Ancken, 2007)
Seraphim Falls features Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan in a tale of revenge set after the American Civil War. Brosnan plays Gideon, a former Union soldier with a bounty on his head, with Neeson playing the bounty hunter Carver, an ex-confederate general who is mercilessly pursuing Gideon through the land of Nevada with fellow hunters. There is a tragic history behind Gideon and Carver that has the latter going to the ends of the earth to get his man.
Seraphim Falls is another beautifully shot film that makes the landscape of the Ruby Mountains and Nevada a character in itself with its brutal landscape that the characters traverse throughout the film. The lead pair are as impressive as ever, and they have good support from Michael Wincott and Ed Lauter as fellow hunters. It’s a tense and tragic revenge story that most certainly deserves your time.
The Homesman – (Dir. Tommy Lee Jones, 2014)
Tommy Lee Jones directs his second feature film with The Homesman, a unique unusual Western that depicts the harsh conditions and life of the west. The film stars the director himself as George Briggs, a claim jumper on the verge of being lynched, who is recruited by Hilary Swank’s Mary Bee Cuddy to help transport three mentally ill women to an institution that will look after them. Cuddy is a good to do citizen looking for a more prosperous life in the mid west but has struggled to find happiness, and the three women come from tragic backgrounds that include child death and abusive relationships.
The Homesman is a great but patient film that explores tragedy in the west, and just how tough life could be for those who embraced Manifest Destiny in the Old West. It has some harrowing moments throughout as Cuddy and Griggs face a number of obstacles in getting the three women safely to their destination. Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones are fantastic in their respective rolls, and it’s most certainly worth your time if you want your Western to be a bit different.
The Proposition (Dir. John Hillcoat, 2006)
The Proposition is an Western set in the outback of Australia, where after a deadly gunfight that sees his gang dead, the outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is apprehended and tasked with killing his psychotic older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), otherwise they will kill his younger brother Mike (Richard Wilson).
John Hillcoat is better known for The Road and Lawless, as well as working closely with musician Nick Cave (who also wrote the story for this) but his recent success could be attributed to this dark and brutal film that holds nothing back. It’s a dark story that has even darker events with some exceptionally menacing acting by the main cast, especially Pearce, Huston and Ray Winstone as the police Captain.
Slow West (Dir. John Maclean, 2015)
2015 was a big year for films, but because of the hype around releases like Star Wars: The Force Awakens smaller films were easily forgotten about, Slow West was one of those films. First time director John Maclean brings us a Western tale with a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-Mcphee and Ben Mendelsohn. McPhee plays Jay Cavendish, a young innocent Scotsman who has travelled to America to find the love of his life Rose Ross. On his journey to find Rose, Jay comes across Silas Selleck (Fassbender) a mysterious man who comes to the rescue of Jay and offers to help him find Rose in return for money. Reluctantly Jay accepts the offer, but unbeknownst to him Silas’s old gang are on his tail, and Silas himself may have an ulterior motive.
I just watched Slow West a couple of days ago and it is now one of my favourite films of last year. It’s a touching Western with superb acting and some great directing of beautiful scenery. With a running time of 84 minutes its a wonderful quick watch which should appeal to any fan of the genre. Once again like many 21st century Westerns the story is a bit different than your typical film set in the Old West, and it demands your time. Get Involved!
The Lone Ranger (Dir. Gore Verbinksi, 2013)
Though this is a big budget film and has been seen plenty, I feel quite strongly about how good it is, and it’s ridiculous bad reputation. This is a perfect example of films being overlooked too early in a serious case of judging a book by its cover. This re-imagining of a classic but forgotten TV show is perfect exercise in blockbuster spectacle. It has everything you want from a blockbuster type film, laughs, action, suspense, and some good acting. Westerns these days don’t all need to be all gritty and low key, we need just as many action packed, gun slinging odes to the wild west to entertain us. I maintain that had this been released before Pirates of the Caribbean it would have been a box office hit. Instead the damage was done before the film came out thanks to scavenging media outlets looking to dump on something before it came out.
The story follows the transformation of John Reid from lawman to the iconic Lone Ranger as the mysterious Tonto aids him in his journey. The pair take on the ruthless Cavendish gang and corrupt rail tycoon Latham Cole as they wreak havoc across the west. If you want a film full of fun and action then look no further than this blast of a remake.
Appaloosa (Dir. Ed Harris, 2008)
Ed Harris both directs and acts in Appaloosa, a Western that takes the classic approach as opposed to a revisionist approach to the genre. After the small town of Appaloosa has it’s Marshall and deputies killed by local rancher Randall Braggs (Jeremy Irons), they call for help in the form of lawmen Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen). As Cole and Hitch look to bring order to the town, a recently widowed woman Allie French (Renée Zellweger) arrives looking for a better life and puts a spanner in the works of their work and friendship.
As mentioned before Appaloosa is a Western that takes a classic approach in its depiction of the genre. It’s a solid film with a great lead pairing of Harris and Mortensen, who played perfectly off each other in A History of Violence. It’s easy to use action packed gun slinging actions with gangs and sheriffs in a Western, but it takes a little more to place an intricate love triangle amongst it all and keep it interesting. It’s most certainly a slow burner of a film, but if you like your Westerns old fashioned then there is a lot to love here.
Open Range (Dir. Kevin Costner, 2003)
This is the last film Kevin Costner directed, 6 years after The Postman and it’s a cracker. The fact he has not directed a film since is a crying shame because he clearly has talent behind the camera, with Dances with Wolves and this to his name he obviously has a penchant for doing a good Western. Robert Duvall plays an open range cattleman by the name of “Boss” Spearman who gets into a feud with the villainous land baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) of a local town who despises open-rangers. Working for Spearman is Kevin Costner’s Charley, a Civil War veteran, along with two other hired hands Mose & Button. Spearman and his workers are drawn into the conflict as the two parties fail to see eye to eye, leading Charley to reluctantly use his war experience for the greater good.
This is a damn fine film, a damn fine Western and you should watch it! It has Robert Duvall doing what he does best in a genre he clearly loves, Kevin Costner is on top form as the hired help, and it has plenty of great support from the likes of Annette Benning, Diego Luna and Kim Coates.
So there we have it, 10 Western films released since the turn of the century that you should get involved with. The likes of Lawless, 3:10 to Yuma, No Country for Old Men, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I did not include on this list as they are all more popular than what is present here (they all have over 100,000 ratings on IMDB, which is a canny barometer) but they are still amazing films so check them out. There are also plenty others out there to check out, we’ve heard good things about Bone Tomahawk, The Salvation, Meek’s Cutoff, The Dark Valley, and Frontera so check those out too and let us know what you think. For now that is it form us at Snooty Usher HQ, let us know your favourite Westerns from the year 2000.