The Western, until very recently, had all but faded from our screens. New Western releases of note have been few and far between throughout the first 16 years of the twenty first century, many barely appearing in cinemas and others only gaining recognition from die hard followers of thee Western genre. The genre was seen as outdated and out of fashion. Indeed ever since Clint Eastwood’s 1992 masterpiece, Unforgiven subtly admitted many of the out-dated features of the wild-west flick, (though the film did not fall prey to these out-dated tropes itself,) relatively few traditional style Westerns worth remembering have materialised on the silver screen. Quentin Tarantino’s brace, Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015), brought the genre back into the spotlight and restored the sheen of ‘cool’ that the Western had arguably lost. Tarantino’s popular creations have shown that Westerns can make money and now that studios know that, the floodgates are open. So what’s in store?
Firstly, having said that traditional Westerns have been largely absent, there are of course a few honourable exceptions that rebelled against the genres comatosed state before Tarantino charged the defibrillators. Open Range (2003), Seraphim Falls (2006), 3.10 to Yuma (2007), Appaloosa (2008) and the Coen’s remake of True Grit (2010), were all modern westerns born of the traditional mould and were all exceptional, (admittedly Seraphim Falls was perhaps less so than the other four films, but still worth its mention). Some of these films defied convention and some embraced the clichés that have become so associated with the Western- all of them though were deeply enjoyable and arguably deserved wider recognition than they accrued. Had they come along in 2016, with the Western genre back in the saddle, they may have had more success.
Now in 2016 we’re looking down the barrel of a veritable onslaught of new, good or promising Westerns…
The theory this article is attempting to present is that idea that Django Unchained set people wondering ‘is it financially viable to make Westerns again or are they still old fashioned and un-cool?’ before The Hateful Eight made studios think ‘Tarantino makes Westerns and his Westerns make money. Westerns sell’.
Now in 2016 we’re looking down the barrel of a veritable onslaught of new, good or promising Westerns- Jane Got a Gun, starring Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor, Bone Tomahawk, starring Kurt Russel, Forsaken, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Brimstone, starring Kit Harrington and Guy Pearce and even a remake of The Magnificent Seven, due to star Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt amongst others. This remake, (or remake of a remake if we’re telling the whole truth, as the original 1960 The Magnificent Seven was based on 1954’s Seven Samurai,) will be directed by Antoine Fuqua, the man behind Southpaw. Also interesting, though more easily accused of being gimmicky, is Diablo, which stars Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, alongside Walton Goggins who shone in The Hateful Eight.
Read our full Hateful Eight review here
Given how iconic The Magnificent Seven has become the remake has massive potential. Washington and Pratt seem to fit the bill of ‘straight forward but enjoyable’ action hero and alongside them Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa and Boyhood’s Ethan Hawke seem fit to fulfil similar hard-hitting all-action roles. While the original film is iconic it was also very simple, the story (in the original and its two sequels,) following the formula: ‘1. Assemble team of adept but flawed gun-slingers. 2. Defend otherwise defenceless village from evil villain and band of evil followers’ …Simple right? That being the case, picking out an actor like Denzel Washington to star is ideal. He’s got an aptitude for action roles and has an ability to add a layer of depth to even simpler characters, a great example of this is his titular role as Eli in The Book of Eli. This film is unlikely to have the depth of Appaloosa or Unforgiven, but when it lands expect brilliant, memorable, old-West action.
For the un-initiated this is a chance to see Westerns that aren’t bogged down by dated clichés, we hope…
It’s the fact that Tarantino’s western outings have been of such a high calibre that has allowed the genre to get back on its feet. He cites Sergio Leone (The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West,) as one of his directorial heroes and even brought in Ennio Morricone to soundtrack The Hateful Eight. Morricone, having been a soundtrack-stalwart for Leone’s films, won the Oscar for Best Original Score for his work on The Hateful Eight and helped create the tension that made the film so memorable. While the film itself achieved partially mixed reviews, it seems that many critics arguably start from quite an ‘anti-Tarantino’ standpoint and it remains difficult to doubt the films quality.
Breathing life into a whole genre is a remarkable feat, but Tarantino’s fame and the attention his films always demand from movie-goers and critics alike, has resulted in a brace of Westerns that have effectively resurrected a dying genre. For fans of the Western this is a god-send and for the un-initiated this is a chance to see Westerns that aren’t bogged down by dated clichés, (we hope!) So keep your eyes peeled for the new wave of Westerns about to saddle up and hit cinemas in 2016, hopefully there will be some gems.
By George Storr
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