AD­VEN­TURES IN STREAM­ING

EACH IS­SUE, OUR IN­TREPID WRITER FOL­LOWS NET­FLIX’S COMPUTERCALIBRATED REC­OM­MEN­DA­TIONS, GO­ING WHER­EVER THE TRAIL LEADS West­erns

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW - WORDS

SI­MON CROOK REAT GEN­RES NEVER die. They just get rein­vented. In this shiny su­per­hero age, Hol­ly­wood’s slapped a Least Wanted poster up for the ne­glected Western, but, as this marathon proves, it re­mains an as­ton­ish­ingly adapt­able genre. Still, if you want con­fir­ma­tion of how un­fash­ion­able cow­boys are, Net­flix doesn’t even list “West­erns” in its search cat­e­gories. Dig around, though, and there’s buried gold wait­ing to be ex­ca­vated.

First up: . Or, as at it should’ve been called, The Mag­nif­i­cent Mr. Tonto. Reteam­ing with Gore Verbin­ski, this is Johnny Depp’s at­tempt to Jack Spar­row-ise the Western, rein­ter­pret­ing Tonto as a Co­manche Buster Keaton in stripy Kiss make-up — a scene-gulp­ing per­for­mance so brac­ingly bizarre that Ar­mie Ham­mer’s masked avenger gets rel­e­gated to side­kick sta­tus. Fol­low­ing Wild Wild West, Jonah Hex and Cow­boys & Aliens, The Lone Ranger’s box-of­fice bel­lyflop­ping sug­gests the Block­buster Western is a se­ri­ously cursed sub­genre. Okay, so it’s con­vo­luted, overblown and seems to last longer than a trip to Pluto, but there are bursts of bril­liance too, and it’s worth catch­ing for its two runaway-train ac­tion se­quences. No other di­rec­tor con­structs set-pieces quite like Verbin­ski. They’re like crazed Heath Robin­son con­trap­tions — in­tri­cate, es­ca­lat­ing chain-re­ac­tions that fizz and clat­ter with breath­less in­ven­tion.

An­other heroic “in­jun” fea­tures in the ram­bling , a pre­quel to The Car­pet­bag­gers (yep, pre­quels ex­isted in 1966). Af­ter mer­ci­less out­laws slaugh­ter his par­ents, a Sioux “half­breed” em­barks on a re­venge odyssey. The leg­endary Lu­cien Bal­lard’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy de­ploys loom­ing panora­mas to en­hance Smith’s iso­la­tion, and his char­ac­ter arc, from naive kid to icy gun­slinger, is com­pelling, but there’s a mas­sive, trum­pet­ing ele­phant in the sa­loon bar — we’re meant to swal­low a blond, blue-eyed Steve Mcqueen, then 36, as a 16 year-old Na­tive Amer­i­can. What is authen­tic is Mcqueen’s in­sane, DIY stunt-work — check out the no­to­ri­ous cat­tle-stam­pede, 40 min­utes in, that nearly tram­pled Mcqueen into a man-burger.

Like Ne­vada Smith, is an episodic, com­ing-of-age Western, but wil­fully weird and melan­cholic. Fresh from the Scot­tish High­lands, Kodi Smit-mcphee wan­ders the fron­tier search­ing for his long-lost love, ac­com­pa­nied by Michael Fass­ben­der’s de­vi­ous, che­rootchew­ing bounty hunter. Seen through Smit-mcphee’s out­sider eye, fa­mil­iar Wild West tropes sud­denly seem alien and ex­otic. Typ­i­cal scene: a gun­fight dur­ing an ab­sinthe binge. This is the di­rec­to­rial de­but of The Beta Band’s John Ma­clean, and you could ar­gue he’s spir­ited his group’s gonzo folk­tron­ica into cin­e­matic form. It’s ul­tra-ironic, bit­ter­sweet and ab­surdly funny — if Jim Jar­musch and early Coen Broth­ers are your jam, take a ride.

From Slow West to slow Western. Af­ter Ma­clean’s genre-de­con­struc­tion job,

looks ob­du­rately old-school. Paced at a ca­sual mo­sey be­fore blast­ing into vi­o­lence, Kevin Cost­ner’s love-let­ter to the genre’s golden age pits Cost­ner and Robert Du­vall’s free­graz­ing cow­boys against Michael Gam­bon’s mega-bas­tard rancher — a turf-war set­tled in a blis­ter­ing real-time shootout that, for my money, is one of the very best in the genre. Scuzzy re­al­ism un­der­cuts Cost­ner’s ro­man­ti­cised West, but with its old-timers, shady sher­iffs, sa­loon scuf­fles and ma­cho code of hon­our, it plays like a for­got­ten Howard Hawks clas­sic. Shot in 2003, it could well be the last truly tra­di­tional stu­dio Western, and thun­ders off into the sun­set in em­phatic style.

A Western marathon with­out Clint is like a gun with­out a bul­let. is by far East­wood’s most sub­ver­sive oater, con­tort­ing the Spaghetti Western into hellish gothic-hor­ror. Ar­riv­ing through a dis­torted heat-haze, sound­tracked by a hoot­ing choir that sounds like an owl sat on a draw­ing pin, Clint’s man-with-no-name rides into a town bul­lied by out­laws. So far, so fa­mil­iar, but his re­ward for killing them is God-like con­trol over the pop­u­lace. Given they stood back and watched their last sher­iff get graph­i­cally bull­whipped to death, the en­su­ing tyranny’s fully de­served. Clint’s an­ti­hero makes a to­tal mock­ery of the Western’s black-hat/white-hat moral sim­plic­ity. Just who the hell is he? The sher­iff’s brother? The sher­iff’s ghost? An an­gel? A de­mon? It’s an unan­swer­able ques­tion, left dan­gling in its eerie fi­nal shot, and likely to brain­worm you for the rest of your view­ing life.

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