April 17th, 2009

Me thinks I haven’t done much talking about films recently, so … I watched Appaloosa last night. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are steely-eyed lawmen in a tough western town. Renee Zellwegger comes between them. Jeremy Irons and Timothy Spall stretch their accents past the point of complete credibility in support. Good cast.

I love me a western. Really I do. Especially of the revisionist modern variety. The Outlaw Josey Wales may be my favourite film of all time. But honestly, I’m not sure I’ve seen one since Unforgiven that really needed making. 3.10 to Yuma was weak. Open Range was actually not bad, which is a surprise, since I’m not so great a Costner fan, but it was nothing amazing. Ride with the Devil, yes, but it’s more civil war picture than classic hick-town six-shooter stuff. South of Heaven, West of Hell was baffling nonsense. Appaloosa, well, it was nicely acted, and nicely shot, and started reasonably but, well, overall…

I still haven’t seen a western since Unforgiven that really needed making.


EDIT: Erik makes a good point about Deadwood, which is, of course, brilliant. I guess I was thinking of films rather than tv, he says, lamely. No doubt there will now be an avalanche of comments pointing out all the wonderful westerns made over the last fifteen years…

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on April 17th, 2009. Tags:

31 comments so far

  • Erik says:

    Hi Joe, have you seen Deadwood (HBO)?

    Really worth checking out imho 🙂

  • Tombstone was pretty good and I think that came out after Unforgiven. But yes. Is the genre dead because Clint’s gottent oo old? Is that what it comes down to?

  • Susanne says:

    Speaking of Viggo Mortensen, is Hidalgo a Western, y/n? Cos I think I liked that quite a bit, especially in the light of the wonderful Cleolinda’s Movies in 15 mins, which no one in the world should live without. (“Oh no! Someone is coming! I fall on you in the defensive missionary position!” – “OMG WTF THE GRINGO IS SEXING UP OUR WOMEN!” FTW. 😉

  • Erik,
    Good point (see above edit)

    Night Watchman,
    Yeah, I’ll give you that, Tombstone is pretty good, largely as a result of Val Kilmer’s superb impression of a huge piece of ham. I’m being unfair. It is good. NEEDED making, though? I’m not sure it does anything Gunfight at the OK Corall didn’t do with bigger chins, or My Darling Clementine either, for that matter.

    Not seen Hidalgo, but I don’t believe the defensive missionary position is an explanation that would hold up in court…

  • Night Watchman,
    Failed to respond to the Clint reference – no, I don’t think so. Clearly he’s a towering figure but there are many great westerns without him in them, even from (relatively) recently – though you may have to go to TV – Deadwood, brilliant, Lonesome Dove, very brilliant. And there are great films that use western trappings – like No Country for Old Men, say. Maybe Unforgiven just had such a powerful word in terms of the post-modernist self-referential western (oooh) that people are nervous about trying it, and now they seem to fall in between two camps. They can’t make simple, old school westerns with good guys and bad guys and they can’t do the ambivalence as well as Unforgiven, so they slightly fall between two camps, and fail to score either on the entertainment or the self-analysis…

  • Susanne says:

    *squints* p-post m-m-mod-d-derrrr, ah, post-modern, er, -ist, self-ref-fff–reffff–err— *falls over dead*

    Man, it’s Friday. This is no time for big words.

    Anyway, I was going to say, watch Hidalgo and then read Cleo’s treatment. Then tell me you didn’t like the film. But I may have disregarded your stipulation of “needed to be made”. I can’t really say it did, so there. Er. has anyone seen my point?

  • Swainson says:

    I grew up watching films like High Plains Drifter, The Wild Bunch, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Django Kill, Breakheart Pass, A Fistful of Dynamite… I think you get the idea.

    It’s hard to see anyone coming up with better westerns than that lot.

    Could you stretch Serenity to being a western?? Did it need making. Debatable.

    I hope hollywood doesn’t start re-making them; there don’t seem to be a lot of original ideas coming out at the moment.

    Off topic, season 4 of the wire is great. The Green Wing is even funnier the second time round.

  • Anonymous says:

    Came across a ‘film’called Broken trail, it could have been a made for TV film but very good. Robert Duvall and the Thomas Hayden Church star. Under stated but with occasional shocking violence. I kinda suspect the shocking violence will go down well with this crowd.


  • Appaloosa has this macho “bros before hos”-philosophy to it that’s kinda funny, and even a little refreshing, current trends taken into consideration. And it had Lance Henrikson, which is cool. But then, it also had Squirrelwegger, so yeah… But yeah, generally lacking in anything even approaching subtlety or even… substance.


  • Anonymous says:

    Stop press.

    Just realised we are having a discussion about westerns without mentioning the two greatest ever. The Searchers and The Good, the bad and the ugly.
    In fact The Good the bad the ugly is probably a fantasy adventure in a western context, hidden gold, ‘treasure map’ to follow, escaping prisons, huge battles, civil war, hangings, heroes, monks, thieves, etc.
    No wonder I love it so much.

  • Anonymous says:

    Apologies, forgot to add that The good the bad and ugly has also the best sound track of any western( with hidden fantasy elements)


  • Elena says:

    The Proposition. Nick Cave scripted. Do I need to say more? It changed my standards forever.

    PS the director John Hillcoat is doing Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (speaking of movies made of his novels AND Viggo Mortensen) and I can’t wait!!!

  • Elena says:

    Wish there were a way to edit comments. Anyway, thought about it after a minute and remembered I’d reviewed it.

    Really right up your alley what the ole ultr-violence and “gritty” reality. 🙂

  • Bear Nasty says:

    “Deserves got nothing to do with it!” Unforgiven really is one of the best, you have my vote

  • thornofcamorr says:

    You didn’t like Yuma? Really?

  • Susanne,
    I will await Hidalgo with baited breath…

    These are the sort of films I’m talking about.

    Robert Duvall is always good value, specially in a western. His performance in the TV Lonesome Dove has to be one of the best Western characters going…

    Once Upon a Time in the West might even pip Good, Bad, Ugly on the score stakes, in my book, though there’s no beating Eli Wallach.

    Yes, Lance Henrikson has a face as harsh and arid as the desert country through which he rides…

    Bear Nasty,
    “I guess he had it coming.”
    “We all have it coming, kid.”

    Not much. I found it all very unconvincing, and Russell Crowe was really phoning it in. Ben Foster cast against type was way the best thing in it.

  • marky says:

    I’m with Swainson on this one. I grew up watching all the old spaghetti westerns, old John Wayne films and even Roy Rogers on BBC2, back in the day. Remember when there was always a western on the BBC, at six o’clock? And in the summer holidays, we got westerns every day! The joy of only having three channels, eh. Randolph Scott and John Wayne were partly responsible for my upbringing!

    Man, I just got a Cable guy, ‘somebody’s got to kill the baby sitter’ moment!

    Susanne is totally right, watch Hidalgo. It’s a great movie. Viggo puts in a stellar performance, and JK Simmons is brilliant as Buffalo Bill. And, if this isn’t enough to sell it, Omar Sharif is in it! I’ll be giving Appaloosa a watch, just because Viggo does the cowboy thing really well.

    What about Brokeback Mountain, Joe? I hear that’s full of happy cowboys?

  • Alex Bell says:

    The Searchers is the best cowboy film evah. And I’m only a little bit biased by the fact that Jeffrey Hunter – the most handsome man ever to walk this earth – is in it. Looking quite sweaty and dirty most of the time too . . .

    The Big Country is the second best (Gregory Peck is awesome).

    How The West Was Won is also fantastic. Great soundtrack and more cameos than you can shake a stick at – James Stewart and George Peppard clearly being the highlights.

    They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

  • Anonymous says:

    Wow, your tastes in Westerns seem to mirror mine. Outlaw Josey Wales is great. I liked 3:10 to Yuma, just sucked he died at the end. Open Range and Broken Trail were both decent westerns. They both were slow until they no longer were slow. For some odd reason I can watch Unforgiven over and over and I still enjoy it. Val Kilmer was incredible in Tombstone, but I actually liked Wyatt Earp better. Hidalgo kinda sucked IMO.

  • Anonymous says:

    Has no one here seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? Great flick. Not your usual western either. Do watch it.

  • Calibandar says:


    I generally agree with you here. Like you I've just come off watching Appaloose and was expecting a much more impressive film. It tells an underwhelming story, which seems half finished, it has the annoying Zellweger and very low-key performances. Not bad to watch but far from outstanding. And it feels short.

    I also watched last year's westerns, Seraphim Falls, Yuma & Assasination of Jesse James. I would rate Seraphim Falls and Yuma as decent, average westerns, 7 out of 10. Jesse James was better I thought, a bit of a stranger more out there sort of film but with lots of tension and some great acting, 8 out of 10.

    Outside of that, Open Range is a lot like Appaloose, but slightly better because of the actors, but it is also very low key. Which can work, but sometimes simply doesn't. Unforgiven is better but I recently saw 1985 western Pale Rider and enjoyed that one more. Still have to see a lot of the older ones.

    So I like the look of the modern westerns, it's just that they don't quite cut in terms of powerful storytelling. Lonesome Dove miniseries was the best one since 2000.

  • David Wagner says:

    “Congratulations. You just killed an unarmed man.”

    “Well, he should have armed himself, when he decided to decorate his store front with my friends’ body.”

    Unforgiven is awesome, true. And as much as I enjoyed Tombstone, it was Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Earp that improves with each viewing, as Kilmer’s diminishes. I thought Biehn and Booth were miscast, actually…

    Love the scene between Kurt and Billy Bob in the Oriental. “You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?”

  • disrepdog says:

    I grew up on the classic westerns too. Unforgiven is class, but True Grit has always been and probably always will be my fav.

    I’ll give Hidalgo a watch 🙂

  • Hmmm, the old western discussion seems to have struck a nerve…

    I’ve never got to brokeback mountain. I’m sure I should, but for some reason I get this blind spot with some films where I know they’ll be good but I decide to watch something that I know will be utter disposable crap instead. And it is. And I know I should have watched the worthy thing instead. Then I do the same thing again next time…

    Alex Bell,
    Jeffrey Hunter is a bit of a dish. Searchers obviously is great. Big Country, too. And the Far Country as well, between which I always get mixed up. Anyone for weird, oh-so-technicolour, emotionally lurid, strangely feminist Johnny Guitar? There are so many good ones…

    1st Anon,
    Oh, man, I really didn’t like Wyatt Earp that much. Tombstone didn’t try to be much more than thigh-slapping entertainment and mostly succeeded. Wyatt Earp, IMHO, was leaded down by its own pomposity – like a fair bit of what Costner does. Hidalgo, I must say, sounds like it sucks. Sorry.

    2nd Anon,
    Not seen the Assassination… It’s so looooong.

    Pale Rider – I see that as a much lesser Eastwood effort (kind of just a remake of Shane, in a way), along with High Plains Drifter. The two are pretty similar with shades of supernatural-ni-ness. I find Josey Wales and Unforgiven better by a country mile, but to each his own. Otherwise I wouldn’t disagree with your analysis…

    David Wagner,
    “Well he should have GOD DAMN armed himself…”

    Ah yes, Rooster Cogburn…

  • Anonymous says:

    I´ll second the The Proposition. A fine movie.

  • Elena says:

    Thank you, second anonymous.

    Joe, on Brokedi–er, back. Don’t bother. Seriously, it was a bad movie. Everyone loved it because it wouldn’t be PC not to. Best day of my life (okay, best day of that particular month) was when my very gay co-worker came in and said, “Me and Larry finally saw Brokeback last night. It was terrible!” Obviously he couldn’t have had an agenda, ergo his opinion validated mine. SO bad. Don’t bother…

    …although it’s almost worth it just for the mockery value. “I wish I knew how to quit you!”

  • Third on The Proposition tip, simply a phenomenal western in my opinion; easily the best one of the last decade. I’m also with you guys all the way on Deadwood and Josey Wales .

    I’d strongly recommend Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, which looks like it was shot by Ansel Adams and stars, I shit you negative, the following cast: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Crispin Glover, Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Iggy Pop, Gabriel Byrne, and a whole mess of other capable trailhands, all in beautiful black and white. Weird and wonderful.

    Ravenous counts as a western, sez I, and features Robert Carlyle having the time of his life. Plus with Guy Pierce’s character you can sort of pretend its an unofficial, anachronistic sequel to The Proposition, even though it was made earlier.

    Brokeback I liked more than I expected but less than a lot of people did. A little overwrought, and considering in the original short story Proulx describes the protagonists as being buck-toothed, bow-legged, and all around pug-ugly the casting decisions were about as wrong as they were expected from a Hollywood romance. Gorgeous Canadian scenery, when they’re not filming in white trash hell.

  • Chris Allen says:

    I’d definately recommend seeing the Assassination of Jesse James… – it may be long, but as someone has already mentioned its not your usual kind of western.

  • MarkM says:

    +1 for The Proposition; flyblown and unforgettable. The closest thing on film yet to the nihilism of Blood Meridian, to which Tommy Lee Jones holds the rights, but which no sane producer would fund.

    Speaking of Jones, big up for his near-Western, Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

    And that’s about it for the last 15 years crop, although Quick and the Dead was kinda sassy. Now if only Raimi would sequel that sucker into Quick and the Evil Dead.

    If we’re talking classics, I’ll throw down The Gunfighter with Gregory Peck as nigh on perfect.


  • Elena says:

    Oh, just thought of another one: Sukiyaki Western Django. It’s Takashi Miike’s take on if Japan had an American Old West. Brilliant. My thoughts there.

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