A string of John Wayne pictures, Roy Rogers oaters and spaghetti westerns gave the genre all the good, bad and ugly it needed. That’s why the genre will never make the comeback some crave.
The western signature, however, remains strong. Stories of reluctant heroes, good versus evil and the power of the individual still exist. They just wear a different mask to survive. Think John McClane in “Die Hard.”
Played out or not, a western is still a western. When done right, there’s nothing better. Westerns can be timeless looks at machismo, honor and the violence men are able to unleash. The genre returns to its roots thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming “The Hateful Eight.”
Tarantino is one of the few filmmakers still able to crack the western code, witness 2012’s “Django Unchained.” While Hollywood tries to spin the genre with flops like “The Lone Ranger,” Tarantino understands what westerns need. A great western today can’t be a calculated retread. Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and others made audiences too familiar with their rough edges.
They need a unique voice to push the narrative. This is why when a western scores today, it’s steered by artists like Tarantino or the Coen Brothers (“True Grit”).
“The Hateful Eight” could be one of those great new westerns.
Before seeing “Eight,” consider these westerns which put their own, indelible stamp on the genre.
- “Bone Tomahawk“ is the other 2015 western starring Kurt Russell and his awe-inspiring moustache. It’s one of the best modern westerns and sadly received a mostly VOD release. Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, the film is a slow burn toward a brutal, original and can’t look away third act. The movie has everything a great western needs: a group of misfit heroes (the actors create a memorable ensemble), a worthy mission (to rescue a man’s wife from kidnappers) and a finish that is one for the history books. “Bone Tomahawk” is currently available to rent through VOD services.
- “Slow West” is another 2015 western that received but a fraction of the press “The Hateful Eight” now enjoys. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender star in a beautiful film with a surprising amount of heart and humor. Once more we watch a young man on a mission with a cynical guide to blaze his trail. The twist here is the kid isn’t from America. That means the west’s landscapes are all new to him. Writer/director John MacLean uses this to his advantage. He shoots everything as if we are seeing the blend of guns, open lands and horses for the first time. That brings out details other directors would gloss over. It’s a peculiar and memorable western. Oh, and did we mention Fassbender is in it? That should be enough to sell anyone on this. “Slow West” is currently available on Amazon Prime.
- “Hatfields & McCoys” never reached the big screen, but that’s no reason to miss it. The three-part miniseries aired three years ago on The History Channel. It’s the unbelievably true story of history’s famous feud. The story itself is enough to warrant a view, but luckily western pro Kevin Costner (“Open Range,” “Silverado,” “Wyatt Earp”) stars and produces here. Both Costner and co-star Bill Paxton deliver strong performances, and the miniseries format fleshes out the finer, and stranger, details of this feud. We get to see the real human toll and motivations that created the hard-to-believe tale. “Hatfields & McCoys” is available on Netflix.
DID YOU KNOW: The Hatfields and the McCoys weren’t always feuding. At times, the two families intermarried and found their loyalties evolving as love and other factors dictated.