January 2, 2013

Five Westerns that are better than Django Unchained

Sure, the art direction is awesome, but...

First things first: I am a HUGE fan of western movies. They are, by far, my favourite film genre, and I’ve seen ’em all. I am also a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino. I’ve seen all of his movies too, but was left disappointed after seeing Django Unchained.

Tarantino’s western is far too long, which causes it to repeatedly lose its tension, diluting Tarantino’s rage-fuelled social commentary. There are too many cartoonish villains to care about any single one, and three too many confusing climaxes. I also found the film’s body count gratuitously bloody, and pointlessly high.

Seriously, I know westerns are inherently violent, so are Tarantino films, it’s the perfect blood storm, I get it, but in these immediate times of real life horrific gun violence, do we really need to watch outrageous, prolonged blood baths as entertainment?

If Tarantino wanted to make the first honest film about American slavery, why does the film digress into Django’s victims becoming a staggering parade of faceless video-game-esque hillbillies piling up in a crimson, soaking heap… what’s the point? Make me care about who you’re shooting down, Django!

That brings me to this list… five westerns I think are better than Django Unchained based on story alone.

1. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). My all-time favourite western and Clint Eastwood movie, about a Missouri farmer whose family and farm is destroyed by marauding Union soldiers at the end of the Civil War. So begins Wales’ long journey of being both the hunter and the hunted, slowly gathering an amazing and unlikely ensemble cast of supporting characters, including an Oscar-nominated, hilarious and profound performance by Chief Dan George.

2. True Grit (1969). This was the movie that finally won the aging legend John Wayne his Oscar. An outstanding adventure set against the backdrop of Colorado, this movie focusses on a young, extremely headstrong girl who is bent on bringing her father’s killer to justice. To do it, she enlists the help of the awesomely cantankerous US Marshall Rooster Cogburn. The film is worth it for the climatic gunfight on horseback in the open field, when Rooster Cogburn shouts out at outlaw Ned Pepper (a very nasty¬†Robert Duvall) “fill your hands, you son of a bitch!”

3. Deadwood (2004 – 2006). Yeah, it’s a TV show, but there is arguably more historical fact and realism in the first ten minutes of this brilliant series set in the ill-fated town in the Badlands of South Dakota than there is in the entirety Django Unchained. Characters Al Swearengen, Sol Star, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock, and many others were all real people, c*ck s*cker!

4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). A classic John Ford western about the early attempts to civilize the west, featuring the acting trifecta of Jimmy Stewart (the shaky new lawyer in town), John Wayne (the larger than life good guy), and Lee Marvin (the evil Liberty Valance, armed with both six-guns and a bull whip). Contains the classic line “This is the West. When legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

5. Unforgiven (1992). A gothic western of pathos, regret, guilt, and deliverance. When a hooker is disfigured in a remote frontier town and the sheriff (Gene Hackman) refuses to act, a bounty is put forth, attracting all manner of gunslinger, including the previously retired, ailing, alcoholic William Munny (Clint Eastwood).

Honourable mention: High Noon (1952), 3:10 To Yuma (2007), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), The Searchers (1956), Winchester ’73 (1950), Shane (1953).

Let me know what you think. Have at ‘er in the comments section below. What is your favourite western? Did you love / like / loathe Django Unchained?

(13) Comments

  1. patmcp says:

    Good on ya for choosing the original 1969 True Grit.

  2. Your list is completely suspect when it doesn’t include Will Smith’s Wild, Wild, West!

  3. Justin says:

    Nothing from the Man With No Name trilogy? Completely agree on Django’s problems though, it was close to be really good but it lost itsfocus too often.

  4. You know that the horrific gun violence is a mixture of homage to the grindhouse samurai films and peckinpah westerns Tarantino watched growing up, right? And that it’s unfair to frame the american cultural legacy in terms of what is an admittedly terrible series of events in the recent past? And that if it had been released before Dark Knight Rises, we’d all view it differently?

    Anyway, it’s a Tarantino movie. Criticizing a Tarantino film for being violent is like criticizing a Scorcese film for starring DeNiro.

    That said, you might like the Randolph Scott westerns from the late 50’s. Relatively minimal violence and a study of existential being in the American West, if in an understated way. Try Ride Lonesome or The Tall T. Heck, try Have Gun Will Travel.

  5. Grant Lawrence says:

    @Justin I agree… Django was SO close to being really good but it’s like watching a person who distracts themselves in a conversation.

  6. Grant Lawrence says:

    @Jordan yeah, I get it, but you might notice there are no Peckinpah westerns on my list. I thought The Wild Bunch started strong but ended really badly. Again, no central villain because they keep killin’ em all! I’ve seen teh Randolph Scott ones. Ride The High Country, right?

  7. Grant Lawrence says:

    And… how is it unfair to hold American culture up against the events of recent past? Maybe one need only look to the Clockwork Orange-like exposure to violence the movie theatre down the block offers up as MAINSTREAM fare? (grindhouse and samurai being b-movie at best, hence never seen by a wide audience)

  8. Shawn Conner says:

    I agree with Grant 100 %. If Django Unchained’s only problem was the bloodbath/gratuitous violence (never mind that it relished in the gun violence but shied away from depicting any other kind) I could maybe give it a pass. But it’s senselessly violent AND boring, clogged with scenery-chewing underdeveloped characters. But enough about that junk… Lonesome Dove tops my list (miniseries I know, but still).

  9. Jordan says:

    I’d add Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in there myself

  10. Jackson says:

    You’re all pussies. Grant – you being the biggest.

  11. Grant Lawrence says:

    @Jackson HOW DARE YOU?

  12. John says:

    Not sure if anyone realizes that this is an homage to the original Django movie starring Frank Nero. Nero even makes a cameo in the mandingo fight scene. The red paint is straight outta that movie. I don’t see this as a “western” or a movie about slavery. I truly believe the slavery element is strictly for Tarantino to attempt to show his “street cred”. I love the guy but I have never seen an Italian try so hard to be Shaft.
    My fave westerns are the Original 3:10 To Yuma with Glen Ford and Valdez is Coming starring Burt Lancaster. Great Elmore Leonard adaptations. I’m sure Tarantino knows them.
    Best modern day western series is Justified. I guess you see the Elmore Leonard pattern…

  13. Grant Lawrence says:

    Thanks for the comment, John. I did know about the original Django. Not sure what the deal is with Tarantino just up and naming his movies after ones that already existed, but completely changing plot lines, etc. He did the same thing with Inglorious Basterds (the original is with an ‘a’ in Bastards and is a TERRIBLE spaghetti war movie made in Italy and overdubbed into English).

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