With an amoral, enigmatic and thought-provoking character at the centre of its mythical tale, Clint Eastwood’s 1973 High Plains Drifter treads ambiguously towards good and evil as it intertwines past feelings of guilt with a thirsty for revenge and pathetic cowardice.
Although the supernatural aspect of High Plains Drifter manages to add a further layer of meaning to the already ambiguous story, it is as a morality play that the film excels. As it deals with universal themes such as honor, honesty and courage in a microcosm of humanity, the movie wisely illustrates how little difference there is between this isolated, frontier town, at the threshold of civilization’s moral certitudes, and our modern, ever-changing, media-centred existence. What a magnificent and unconventional masterwork! Continue reading →
A cinematic masterwork of epic and far-reaching scope, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 There Will Be Blood is a film that feeds off legends, allegories and origin stories, to then go on and create its own mythology about the American Century and the end of the dream.
The analogy between the plot of There Will Be Blood and the socio-economic history of the United States isn’t a difficult one to establish. The development of the country – and the subsequent social, cultural and technological progress set in motion by this – is the result of some morally dubious choices and dishonest manoeuvres. Rather more complicated, however, is to reconcile the negative aspects of such a society with the notion that this is the land of freedoms and opportunities. Continue reading →
A poignant tale wrapped inside a sublimely unconventional western, Robert Altman’s 1971 McCabe & Mrs. Miller casts the unlikely idealist hero against the powerful push of corporate America, under heavy snow and thunderstorm rain and flying bullets and hot fire.
Leisurely paced and unafraid to let real life chaotic nuances interfere with the storytelling, Robert Altman’s masterpiece McCabe & Mrs. Miller will enthrall anyone ready and willing to run away from clichés and tired twists. The fact that the film is arguably its director’s masterwork says it all, since Altman made several great movies. Direction, photography, soundtrack and especially the performance of the two leads, makes this oddly superb film as perfect as it can get. Continue reading →
A western with no action or a play with cowboys, William A. Wellman’s 1943 The Ox-Bow Incident tells the sad tale of three men facing the possibility of execution by the mob, where reason and compassion are overlooked in the name of impulsive, angry and swift ‘justice’.
It is not a coincidence that Henry Fonda’s character Gil Carter in The Ox-Bow Incident represents the audience’s alter ego and challenges the mob rule mentality, as he would do the same fourteen years later in Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men. Fonda as an actor is perfect as the cool and rational human being who is capable of seeing things as they should be seen. Note here, not necessarily seeing thing as they really are, for that would imply that society, and especially American society, is just, and yet human beings are sometimes misguided. Continue reading →
An intense noirish western that deals with substantial moral questions, the Coen brothers’ 2007 No Country for Old Men, with its cynical view of modern America, subverts hero-worshiping in the form of a hideously atypical villain who is indestructible as a superhero.
It seems odd to call No Country for Old Men a western. It certainly looks like one. The story takes place in Texas and several elements of the film – the orange-tinted landscape, the cowboy-type hero, the brutal violence – all point to, arguably, the most American of all genres. However, westerns usually are moral tales with archetypes dealing in honour and personal justice. The Coens’ film is rather more ambiguous.