Inching towards mediocrity.


The Magnificent Seven Continues. (Now with 0% of “The Magnificent Seven!”)

Well.

Yesterday I began a list of my personal favorite Westerns of all time. Today, I return to finish the job – once and for all.

First, though, a quick recap. Here’s the first four entries on the list, numbered seven to four:

7. Young Guns.

The Brat Pack takes on the legend of Billy the Kid. Emilio Estevez is somehow believable as a murdering sociopath. Kiefer Sutherland continues to be awesome.

6. Silverado.

Kevin Kline and Kevin Costner team up to stop corrupt Brian Dennehy and creepy Jeff Goldblum.

Awesome.

5. Tombstone.

Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer steamroll through some of the most cringe-worthy moments in film history, seemingly through sheer force of awesomeness alone. Michael Biehn is also on hand, once again forcing us all to collectively ask: “What the hell ever happened to Michael Biehn?”

4. Unforgiven.

Clint Eastwood frowns and scowls his way towards redemption and a scheming Gene Hackman, with Morgan Freeman caught somewhere in the middle. Saul Rubinek and Richard Harris are also there for some reason.

And now…THE FINAL THREE.

Three: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. (2007)the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford

This is the newest entry on the list, so I’m not sure if it’s properly reached “classic” status yet.

But give it time, friends – it will.

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” was quite possibly my favorite movie of 2007. Very few people saw it. Even less seemed to like it. But I maintain that it is one of the most beautifully epic and gorgeously shot films I have ever witnessed. The movie is true artwork – every detail is carefully crafted for maximum impact. From the cinematography, to the sparse dialogue, to the acting, to the score by indie hero Nick Cave, everything is note perfect.

It’s certainly not a feel good movie, like some other, younger, gunnier films, but that’s okay. It’s not meant to be. While Jesse James certainly had his boyish fun side, his movie isn’t about him. It’s one of the few Jesse James movies out there, I’m sure, that he isn’t the main focus of.

This movie is about Robert Ford.

It’s about Ford, that “dirty little coward, who shot Mr. Howard,” and his tumultuous, sometimes bizarre relationship with James. Ford idolized James, even loved him – but not in a weird way. Just in the way that he wanted to be Jesse James.

Which, I guess is a little weird.

(But, c’mon…who wouldn’t want to be Jesse James?!?)

Casey Affleck plays Ford as a man who seems to be constantly on the verge of a complete meltdown. He has no real personality, no identity. In his mind’s eye, he IS James, or at the very least, James’ partner in crime. Unfortunately, Jesse James doesn’t really see it that way.

Now, I usually hear the same two complaints about this movie. For one, it’s too long. Well, deal with it. This is a grown-up movie for grown-ups. If you can’t sit and watch a movie for three hours without squirming or getting fussy, than too bad. This movie’s not for you. It’s long, yes, but that only adds to the build up. And I’ve never found it slow, either. Leisurely, sure. It takes it’s time to revel in the world it’s created, and the characters who inhabit it. And what interesting characters they are.

The second complaint is that, like “Titanic”, you already know the ending. All right, sure. It’s in the damn title, for Christ’s sake. But again, the movie isn’t about the murder of James…it’s about the journey leading up to the assassination. It wants to examine this frustrating relationship between two vastly different men, one an idol, the other the worshiper, that culminates in murder. The interesting part isn’t that Robert Ford shot Jesse James in the back of the head. The interesting part is why Robert Ford shot Jesse James in the back of the head. And in the movie, when James realizes his defeat, and gives up to dust off that picture, it’s beautiful, sad and heartbreaking – for both men.

Give it another look. The acting is superb all around, with Affleck at the head of the pack, and excellent supporting performances from Pitt and the always dependable Sam Rockwell. And, in a transparent attempt to make me love this movie even more, the lovely Zooey Deschanel also shows up, briefly, near the end.

So it’s also got that going for it. Which is nice.

Two: The Searchers. (1956)

the searchersRacism, family, and John Wayne all collide in this epic masterpiece by that master of epic masterpieces, John Ford.

Wayne, a staple of Westerns, stars as Ethan Edwards, a man searching for his lost nieces after they are abducted by Native Americans. Edwards, racist against the Natives even before they destroy his family, sets out to find the girls at any cost.

That cost, as we soon find out, is exorbitantly higher than the audience may initially think; Ethan’s hatred for the Comanche is so severe, that he would rather see his nieces dead then in Native hands. If he can’t save them from death, than at least he can try to save them from the tribe.

The film attempts to examine racism in the Old West, showcasing Ethan’s hatred for the “red man” against the Comanche chief’s racism against the “white man”. Both are extreme in their racism to the point of madness – the chief, Scar, will continue to kill and scalp white men, with no end in sight, in retaliation for his two son’s murders, and Ethan will willfully murder his own niece, rather than see her marry a Comanche.

It’s a dark, dense tale, that is uncommon even now – let alone in the 1950’s, when it was a given that all cowboys were good, all Indians savages.

Wayne is amazing as Edwards. Defiant, aggressive and stubborn, his character grows throughout the film, but only really finds redemption after being pushed to the brink – he only truly becomes human after giving up his own humanity.

It’s a great film – a social message beautifully shot and well acted. Certainly one of Ford’s best, which means it truly must stand tall in the genre. Highly recommended, this is one of the best in the genre.

One: High Noon. (1952)high noon

The only thing more epically, badassingly awesome than the movie “High Noon,” is Gary Cooper, who stars in the movie “High Noon.”

This is number one is right here, folks. And it is awesome.

“High Noon” is a ridiculously awesome movie with a ridiculously awesome concept. Cooper plays Will Kane, the sheriff of a small town, now happily married and planning to retire. Then some dude Kane put away years ago vows revenge on Kane, heads back into town, grabs himself a posse, and wages war on our intrepid lawman.

No problem, right? Just round up some deputies, take these dudes by force, scrub up your badge for the next guy, and high-tail it outta town on the next stagecoach for a weekend honeymoon retreat with your wife at some five-star saloon or something.

WRONG.

The townspeople may admire Kane, but they sure as hell don’t want to step into his shoes. Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is one badass dude, and they want nothing to do with him. They suggest the same to Kane. Leave town. Forget Miller. Move on.

But Kane knows better. You deal with bullies by facing them down, not running away. Otherwise, they will hunt you down and haunt you for the rest of your life. So he stays in town. He pins that badge on his vest, and he throws down against Frank Miller and his gang, with no help from anyone but himself. Will Kane vs. THE WORLD. And in REAL TIME.

It’s a great movie that showcases the struggles of doing the right thing vs. doing the easy thing. It presents this argument mostly through dialogue, and characters action prior to the finale – and, in fact, the finale is the only place where any violence or action at all take place. Not your typical Western – especially Back In The Day.

Check it out to find out why I consider it to be the best Western ever made (personally speaking, of course.)

And you’ll also find out why Gary Cooper’s Will Kane is the greatest Western hero of all time.

Well.

That is the list as I see it. I’m sure there will be future lists down the road, but for now…I’m all listed out.

Oh, what the hell. Here’s the honorable mentions list. Check these out too, for a better representation of the genre as a whole:

The Magnificent Seven. (1960)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (1969)

Shane.(1953)

Rio Bravo. (1959)

The Wild Bunch. (1969)

Stagecoach. (1939)

Dances with Wolves. (1990)

And yes. I am fully aware that EVERY movie on THIS list is better than “Young Guns.”

REGULATORS!

MOUNT UP!



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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Not even a mention of “The man who shot Liberty Valance”, “Gods Gun”, or “Death Rides a Horse”? I’m Dissapointed

Comment by steakandeggs

Having never been able to sit through an entire Western before, (unless you count all 12 minutes of The Great Train Robbery), you’ve inspired me to high tail it to Blockbuster and actually give some of these a chance.

“Defiant, aggressive and stubborn, his character grows throughout the film, but only really finds redemption after being pushed to the brink – he only truly becomes human after giving up his own humanity.” – great line.

Comment by Ryan

pfff, shouldn’t the header of your blog be stacks of dvd’s and baseball mitts instead of trying to come of as some intellect by using books? misleading your audience much?

aside from that, young guns truly is a glorious bad western! long live billy the kid and charlie (his heart was so big)

also, the line Ryan pointed out really is a good line. well done.

best western of all time though: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.

eat shit and die,
the mule

Comment by the mule




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