Ten Westerns to watch before you play 'Red Dead Redemption 2'
For as long as cameras have rolled and rugged men have squinted, directors have been training their eyes on the Wild West, the dusty heartland of the American dream. A place where eagles cry, cowboys roam and saloons grow silent whenever an out of towner creeps through the door.
In the build-up to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, we thought it only right to revisit the best modern movies and TV shows set in the dusty frontiers of the infinite West.
*Insert saddle up joke.
It's why we're here, isn't it? Netflix has released another show worth neglecting your social life for as Best of British Jack O'Connell (doing just fine with the accent, thanks) stars as an injured outlaw going head-to-head with a one-armed Jeff Bridges in a seven parter that, elsewhere, concerns itself with some refreshingly solid female characters putting the pieces back together in a town in which all of the men have died in a mining accident. Let's hope for a second series.
HBO's blockbuster TV reboot of the 1973 cult classic, Westworld is best described as a sci-fi western dystopia thriller (with extra Anthony Hopkins), meaning that unless you hate modern CULTURE there's something in it for you.
Set in a futuristic Wild West-themed 'amusement park' catering to rich guests and their myriad fantasies, the action begins when the robotic "hosts" who populate the park develop a conscience of their own, which, as you can imagine, was never part of the plan.
Django Unchained (2012)
The kind of film that will make Tarantino loathers - of which they are legion - despise the man even more, Django Unchained is predictably violent, mindless, overly-long and polarising... did we mention that it was violent?
But for all of its sins (if you hate Tarantino that is) this HD fable of slick and furious revenge against a community of deep south oppressors who have ruined a freed slave's life is fast, brutal and stylish. Not to mention it features Leonardo DiCaprio as a proper villain for once.
True Grit (2010)
Featuring two men with faces that make them forever destined to play craggy, gun-toting good ol' boys, Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin are the perfect leads for the Coen brothers' 2010 Western, a proper old school style shootout that sees Bridges' boozy, trigger-happy sheriff give chase to Brolin's dastardly outlaw after the latter murdered a farm girl's father for reasons yet to be explained.
Matt Damon shows up for a bit, too.
Slow West (2015)
As much a buddy road movie as it is a Western (certainly no bad thing), Slow West sees Fassbender tone down his usual furrow-browed artiste intensity with a calm(ish) and layered portrayal of an ambiguously-motived bounty hunter escorting a hapless Scotsman through the lawless West, their backstories slowly unfurling across a hot, dry desert journey filled with danger and self-reflection.
At times slow (hence the name), this is nevertheless an engrossing change of pace to the genre.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
A classic case of a navel-gazing title killing public interest in an actually very good film, The Assassination of Jesse James (we're not going to indulge the second part) is, a decade after its release, slowly gaining the appreciation it deserves as a fine piece of slow-burning cinema featuring one of Brad Pitt's all-time greatest performances.
Haunting, visually beautiful and with one of the best scores in recent memory, James' downfall at the hands of jealous bank robbing accomplices (Casey Affleck = snake, but very good in this) only serves to fuel the legend of his exploits.
Shame that they gave it all away in the title.
Hell Or High Water (2016)
One of last year's best films and another one that unfortunately slipped beneath a lot people's radars (Moonlight and La La Land will do that to you), Hell or High Water sings a sad and sun-bleached ballad of West Texan brothers (including Chris Pine and his big handsome forehead) trying to do right by their family, even if that means their actions aren't always strictly legal.
All that stands between them and financial freedom is Jeff Bridges' cantankerous county sheriff —and you know he's not going down without a fight.
No Country For Old Men (2007)
Like all great Westerns, No Country for Old Men is simple in premise and riveting in execution: Man (Josh Brolin) finds drug deal money in the desert while out hunting. Man can't resist taking money. Man is chased relentlessly through the prairies and motel carparks of Texas by a terrifying assassin (Javier Bardem) with a bowl cut and a cattle gun. Tired sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) wonders what it's all about.
The Coen brothers' seminal adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's harsh classic, few films have managed to capture the dread and tension of pursuit quite like No Country for Old Men.
It's aged particularly well, too.
Starring Johnny Depp as a neurotic pet chameleon who sets out into the unforgiving desert to discover his true meaning (just how can you stand out when your very biology asks you to blend in?), on paper Rango should be an average children's film, but in actuality is a hilarious, charming and very Western adventure film that is dream Sunday night viewing.
Sure, it's animated, but sometimes (very occasionally) you need a break from Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin squinting and chewing.
Check the Fear and Loathing references, too.
As close as a high-profile, big-budget TV drama can get to an urban legend, Deadwood was unceremoniously cut down in its prime after only 3 seasons and 36 episodes for reasons never fully explained by HBO.
Telling the origin story of a fictional 1870s settlement camp in South Dakota as it grows into a full-blown town - complete with its own brothel, casino and sheriff trying-to-do-the-right-thing (Timothy Olyphant) - Deadwood is a spit-and-sawdust affair that is at turns gripping and comical, mainly thanks to an irresistible performance from Ian 'Killjoy' McShane as bar owner Al Swearengen who - we kid not - swears a hilarious amount. Becoming a film soon, too.