Cowboys and Indians
A classic trope of the western is of course the rivalry between cowboys and the Native Americans, usually the Native Americans were stereotypically represented as the villains but when Kevin Costner created Dances With Wolves in 1990 he asked us to question who the villains really were. The film is set during the American Civil War and is about Lieutenant John Dunbar who is struggling to survive alone at an outpost, he must question his own loyalties when he helped by a tribe of Native Americans, his supposed enemies. This is an incredibly moving film that forces you to view the genre from an entirely different point of view. It was the first western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since Cimmaron in 1931 and has since been preserved by the National Film Registry as a quintessential modern western.
A Modern Retelling
The Coen Brothers are a pair of very interesting filmmakers best known for their quirky sense of humour and understated takes on subjects. In 2010 they turned that approach to the film True Grit, based on the novel of the same name from 1968 which had been adapted for the screen before in the year 1969 and starred none other than John Wayne. Often it’s easy to approach any remake with a certain amount of caution however here is a case that you need not be concerned with poor quality. The Coen Brothers retelling of the story is excellent, it stars Jeff Bridges as a washed out U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn who is called to action by a 14 year old girl named Mattie Ross played by Hailee Steinfeld in order to hunt down the man that has killed her father. This is a great tale with all the positive trimmings of the classic western teamed with a great sense of humour and filled with emotion, in fact it’s still one of their best films to date.
America’s Most Wanted
No tour of the wild west would be complete without a legendary outlaw and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one of the most interesting takes on the subject. The film is both written and directed by Andrew Dominik and this two is adapted from a novel of the same name. It stars Brad Pitt as Jesse James and Casey Affleck as Robert Ford in a story that as the slightly long winded title suggests, covers the death of James. This isn’t your guns blazing, riding off into the sunset type of film but actually an extremely uncomfortable piece that shows the infamous convict as a scary man that you’d likely want nothing to do with. Affleck perfectly portrays the somewhat downtrodden Ford who fears for his life every moment he’s with James and causes you to question the representation of many of history’s so called “heroes” in ways no other film has. This is a deep study of the relationship between these two men and what it lacks in the action usually associated with the genre it makes up for by the spitoon in tension.