What began as an epic email thread of our ‘Top 5 Things We Like Now We Can’t Go To The Pub’, has now found its way here, on our website, as our flock’s gift to you.
Lo and behold, LIST THREE: Perriman’s Top Five Bleakest Western Films To Remind Us That The World Has Been Worse!!
1: Unforgiven (1992)
Only the third western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, Clint Eastwood’s final western is perhaps one of the bleakest of the genre. William Munny (Eastwood), a widowed and retired killer-for-hire now farmer, is trying to raise his two children in peace until he is reluctantly drawn back into the world of bounty hunting thanks to a group of prostitutes in the town Big Whisky who want revenge on cowboys that hideously disfigured one of them. The grim tone of the outset never really lets up as Munny and his longtime partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) encounter the brutal town sheriff (‘Little’ Bill Daggett – Gene Hackman in his Academy Award winning role), battle the elements and are eventually drawn back into the life they both tried so hard to leave with tragic consequences. The film asks the question “what begets violence?”, and as the credits roll over a haunting sunset and string refrain, gives no answer.
2: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
This haunting, rambling recount of Jesse James’ final days by Australian director Andrew Dominik is beautiful in its bleak inevitability. Watching Jesse James (Brad Pitt in a career-defining showing) slowly lose his tenuous grip on reality in his final months as he is accompanied by Robert Ford (Casey Affleck in a completely scene-stealing performance) and his brother, Charlie (Sam Rockwell), is quite excruciating to watch. One by one the James gang betray Jesse and lose their sense of selves and even their lives amongst some of the most beautifully shot wilderness ever committed to film. Because we know how this story plays out, its meandering pace builds ominous dread to the point that when the last shots come for both Jesse and Robert, we are so sympathetic to both men that the final fade to black leaves us feeling completely useless and empty.
3: The Homesman (2014)
Written and directed by Tommy Lee Jones, this often overlooked gem tells the story of the pious and independent Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a single woman who takes it upon herself to transport three women who have been driven mad by the harshness of frontier life cross country in a covered wagon. To help her in this task she hires the drifter George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones, doing Tommy Lee Jones things) and the two set out on the harsh journey that will ultimately change their lives. The romance of the western genre never arrives for this odd pairing, as one personal disaster after another crashes headlong into their tiny wagon. Tommy Lee Jones relaxes the dirt and grime for what seems like a well deserved upturn of fortune, only to dash it away from us in a startling and upsettingly punch to the guts that, as the remnants of both these character’s lives float down a river, we never truly get over.
4: The Proposition (2005)
The harshness of the land and the brutality of law and early settlement dominate this drastically violent western written by Nick Cave and set in 1880s Australia. Featuring one of the greatest male ensemble casts gathered in Australian cinema history, Cave and director John Hillcot weave the tale of the outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) who is given the ultimate proposition by a captain (Ray Winstone); to save his younger brother who’s due to hang, he must kill his older brother (Danny Huston). The viciousness of the men is often shocking to watch, but the real terror comes from the unforgiving land and time that they occupy. While lives are lost, it’s the stripping back and eventual loss of even the most seemingly decent character’s humanity as they try to merely survive that is most painful element for us watching this distressingly brutal story unfold.
5: No Country for Old Men (2007)
A modern take on the western genre and based on Cormac McCarthy’s multi-award winning novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men is a Coen brothers’ masterpiece and one of the more tragic. After coming across a border drug deal gone wrong, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) takes the money left behind, unaware of what he is about to unleash – the implacable Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in his Oscar winning role) – easily one of the most terrifying villains of modern cinema. The soundtrack is extraordinary in its absence, as as Chigurgh chases Llewelyn across the Texas landscape, only ambient noise can be heard. Old-school marshall Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) struggles with the trail of horrors and corpses left behind by Chirgurgh and deep down we as an audience know that not all of these men will avoid the same fate – an allegory for a man’s inability to change in a changing, dangerous world. As the film ends abruptly, we are left empty and asking the question; “For what?”
I’d never usually say enjoy with these films, but I think we might be able to right now.
NEXT UP & IN TIME FOR THE WEEKEND: Blake’s Top Five Boardgames…here Friday!