In honor of Texas independence, The Daily Texan embraced its state’s stereotypical cowboy image and assembled a list of the best western films to watch this weekend.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
No western film is as iconic as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Featuring an international cast led by Clint Eastwood, the film tells the epic tale of three outlaws racing to a fabled treasure.
Director Sergio Leone employs long shots and extreme close-ups to build tension in many scenes and add stylish flair to the film’s gun battles. The movie’s depiction of the Old West can only be described as mythical: It’s a fantasy world that bears only passing resemblance to the real American West.
Since its release in 1966, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” has influenced several directors, including Quentin Tarantino, who calls it “the best-directed film of all time.” It’s an important movie in the western genre to be sure, but it’s also a landmark achievement in cinema.
The Magnificent Seven
One might not expect it at first glance, but “The Magnificent Seven” is actually a 1960 remake of a Japanese samurai film. Both movies are about seven heroes who protect a village from bandits, but “The Magnificent Seven” replaces samurai with gunslingers. It’s an exciting action picture with likable protagonists and a strong villain to root against.
Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson lead the cast, several of whom achieved superstardom thanks to the film’s success. Director John Sturges made his mark on the western genre by dealing with the gravity of sacrifice and illustrating that heroism is not always easy.
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the 2010 remake of “True Grit” is an unexpectedly heartwarming tale of old-fashioned revenge. Jeff Bridges is impressive as Rooster Cogburn, the tough, one-eyed U.S. marshal, but Hailee Steinfeld steals the show as Mattie Ross, a girl pursuing the criminal who killed her father. Ross hires Cogburn to track down the killer, and they forge an uneasy alliance that gradually turns into a friendship.
It’s ironically refreshing to watch the usually unusual Coen brothers bring the viewer something more traditional. “True Grit” examines the fragility of human life through the harsh setting of the Old West.
Released in 1953, “Shane” is set in the dying days of the Old West, a time when gunslingers were relics of the past. The titular character Shane (Alan Ladd) is one of these relics, and he’s struggling to fit in with the new world.
He wanders into a town a greedy cattle baron (Emile Meyer) and his minions rule. Over the course of the movie, Shane befriends the townspeople and grows to care for a little boy named Joey (Brandon De Wilde). He eventually decides to save them from the bad guys.
While “Shane” tells a simple story, it has multiple themes, including choice, forbidden attraction and the bond between a surrogate father and his surrogate son. Director George Stevens knows how to stage action moments, but his focus on the human element of “Shane” is what makes it so memorable.
Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” won the Oscar for Best Picture thanks to its unconventional take on the western genre. Released in 1992, the film abandons the tropes of evil outlaws and heroic cowboys and instead suggests they are not as different as we may think.
Eastwood, who also directed the film, plays Will Munny, an aging farmer and former bandit trying to repent for his sins. In need of money, Munny joins a young, naïve gunslinger (Jaimz Woolvett) on the latter’s journey to hunt down two criminals for a reward.
The outlaws’ quest is unsatisfying and psychologically damaging for both of them. Along the way, they encounter a tyrannical sheriff (Gene Hackman), who can be just as cruel as Munny. Their conflict isn’t a battle of good versus evil but rather one of who wronged whom — Eastwood lets us decide who’s in the right.
Morally ambiguous and dark, “Unforgiven” explores the ugly nature of the Old West and depicts violence for what it is: horrific.