The Sisters Brothers 2017 ****


Even given the lack of public appetite for Westerns, the complete disappearance of Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers at the box-office demonstrated a notable and regrettable gap between quality and appreciation; this is an entertaining, mainstream film that almost nobody saw. Audiard’s A Prophet was such a breakthrough movie that his English –language debut was certain to draw top talent; based on a novel by Patrick deWitt, Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly play Charlie and Eli Sisters, two assassins on the trail of gold in the U.S. circa 1851. Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed plays Warm, a man who has created a formula which, added to bodies of water with gold ore nearby, turns bright green; a licence to print money if carefully applied, but care is short in these territories. There’s a notable taste of Old West harshness when Charlie swallows a spider and the venom causes him some distress; the world is a dangerous place in Audiard’s world view, and survival is as much as a man might hope to gain. The Sisters Brothers is violent, bleakly funny, spikey and evokes the best of Sergio Leone; Jake Gyllenhaal, Rutger Hauer, Alison Tolman and Carol Kane round out an accomplished cast. Perhaps The Sisters Brothers was too rich for audiences; an audience watching at home would do well to put their phones away and immerse themselves in this epic, original story of greed and grizzly bears.


The Outsider 2019 ****

Despite the best efforts of Quentin Tarantino and Westworld, the Western hasn’t quite been revived as a genre, but there seems to be a strain of tough, adult fare developing from Bone Tomahawk onwards. Director Timothy Woodward Jr seems to be a fan of the form, with a Bill Hickok biopic amongst his many recent credits, and The Outsider is a more than decent entry in the Western stakes, shot at the old Paramount Ranch.  John Foo plays Jing Phang, a railroad-worker who not surprisingly struggles to find social equality in the Old West. When the increasingly unhinged James Walker (Kaiwi Lyman), son of lawman Marshall Walker (singer Trace Adkins ) takes an unpleasant shine to Phang’s wife, Phang is unable to prevent her from falling into his clutches , and revenge ensues. The Outsider’s plotline makes it sound like an eye-for-an-eye Charles Bronson movie, but Sean Ryan’s script is considerably more complex and thoughtful than might be expected, and follows a number of factions in the town while Phang is on the run. If the climax doubles down on melodrama in a frustratingly conventional way, The Outsider scores points as a well-mounted, traditional Western that should please anyone looking for a fix of old-school moral justice.

Slow West 2015 ***


John Maclean’s debut film is an offbeat Western which features the star of his BAFTA-winning short, Pitch Black Heist, Michael Fassbender. Kodi-Smidt-McPhee plays a young Scotsman befriended by Fassbinder’s gruff stranger who a cross -ountry trek to find a lost sweetheart. Ben Mendelsohn makes a suitable adversary, but Slow West never conforms to genre expectations, feeling more like a road movie with horses, and with sudden, shocking violence in the vein of Dead Man. The sight of a washing line hung between the men’s horses as they ride sets a whimsical tone that’s laced with dark humour. Slow West has echoes of The Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit; a semi-mythical West, unexpected in its simplicity, deadly in outlook.

The Salvation 2014 ***

134f5-salvatation-poster-2-copy-copyIf you only see one Western featuring Eric Cantona, Douglas Henshaw, Mads Mikklelsen, and Eva Green as a murderous mute, The Salvation is likely to be the answer to your prayers. Mikklelsen plays a man who revenges his family’s killer, only to find himself alone in his battle against a larger, better equipped villain.  Kristain Levring’s western has a welcome dash of Leone, but has its own violent, remorseless energy, with Green magnetic as always amid plenty of quirky, offbeat incident.