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Jesse Straight, gunslinger.

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Contemporary accounts abound with records of women who fought as men in the Civil War, and then there was legendary stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, discovered upon his demise to be anatomically a woman. Launching on her quest, Jesse encounters a varied succession of colorful characters. Tension mounts as Jesse joins up with a militia organized by a vindictive governor with a vendetta against her brother.

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It is here that she encounters another militiaman who is attracted to Jesse, but not as a woman. Yet for all its wistful cowboy poetry, the story told here is decidedly unromantic, piercing the heroism of the Old West and highlighting the experiences and identities of marginalized people who were traditionally written out of the script.

Larison strikes a fine balance between satisfying and surprising our expectations, in an enjoyable addition to the ever-evolving literature of the American West. John Larison will appear at 7 p. Thursday, Aug.


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Chris Cooper plays Sam Deeds, a curious Lone Star sheriff trying to solve the year-old murder of his bigoted, sadistic predecessor played in flashbacks by Kris Kristofferson. As he digs up secrets that most folks in Rio County would rather keep buried, Sam exhumes a history of racism, double crosses, and even forbidden romance that may end up implicating his own dead father Matthew McConaughey.

It has a rich, almost-novelistic complexity, juggling characters and time periods with the grace of an acrobat. A caravan of men and women ramble across the purgatorial expanse of the Oregon desert under the dubious direction of their guide, Stephen Meek Bruce Greenwood. Michelle Williams and Greenwood are excellent in their roles, as doubt begins to circle the party like a pack of coyotes, and the film turns Manifest Destiny into an existential hell. The surreal quest is part exercise in magical realism and part Western parable about human dignity and personal responsibility, bolstered by strong performances and restrained direction.

2. My Antonia by Willa Cather

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are perfectly matched as Ben Wade and Dan Evans, a devilishly seductive outlaw and the wounded Civil War veteran in charge of delivering him to a scheduled hanging. This doomed road trip accumulates Biblical overtones — Wade constantly tempts his captors, while his vengeful crew approaches on the horizon like the horsemen of the apocalypse. But the movie never loses sight of its strange protagonists and the unique understanding that develops between them.

And while John Wayne may have taken home his Oscar for playing Rooster Cogburn in the original adaptation, Jeff Bridges makes the role his marble-mouthed own alongside newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. But when it was finally released, audiences and most critics rallied to his side. Costner starred as John Dunbar, a decorated Union soldier who befriends and then assimilates with the peaceful Sioux tribe near his distant one-man frontier outpost. Dances is swimming in ambition — and political correctness — and the sad fate of the American Indian hangs over every scene.

Though far from a Western in terms of structure, Brokeback Mountain is a powerfully emotional look at the model of American masculinity, the cowboy, and how it fails two men completely. Anchored by four stellar performances from Heath Ledger, Jack Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, and Anne Hathaway, the film is an essential entry in the genre, regardless of an utter lack of shoot-outs.

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Do not be put off by its long title. Or by the fact that it spoils how the movie is going to end. The pleasure comes from watching this beautiful, intense, and moody thriller unfurl. His portrayal of the famed outlaw is equal parts mesmerizing and terrifying. But Quentin Tarantino dreams of a different, wilder West. With Django Unchained , the filmmaker let his spaghetti-Western fetish run amok, delivering a full-blown homage to the ultraviolent, political, and crazed cowboy cinema of Sergio Corbucci.

Django Unchained is crazy, but only because America is crazier. Then in , after so many years away from the genre, Eastwood decided that he was either mature enough or wise enough or wracked with enough regret that it was time to reckon with his bloody onscreen past. Unforgiven , which Eastwood also directed, is a chilling and deeply personal meditation on violence and the toll it takes on a man. FB Twitter ellipsis More. Image zoom. Directed by Robert Zemeckis The underrated third part of the time-traveling trilogy acts as both a meta-commentary on the silliness of Western motifs and a nice little oater on its own.

Continued on next slide. Directed by S. Craig Zahler After a handful of folks are kidnapped from an Old West town by cave-dwelling cannibals, a four man posse — played by Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, and Kurt Russell — saddle up for what turns out to be a slow-paced, but utterly gripping, journey into hell.

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Directed by Ed Harris Sometimes, just being a great old-fashioned Western is enough. Directed by Kevin Costner After the twin disasters of his Western on the sea Waterworld and his Western in the post-apocalyptic future The Postman , Kevin Costner did the smartest thing possible and made this old-fashioned, sweeping, big-sky entertainment set in the wild West of Directed by George P. Cosmatos Tombstone is a modern cop saga projected against the backdrop of the lawless Old West. D irected by Ang Lee Though far from a Western in terms of structure, Brokeback Mountain is a powerfully emotional look at the model of American masculinity, the cowboy, and how it fails two men completely.

D irected by Andrew Dominik Do not be put off by its long title. Replay gallery. Pinterest Facebook. Up Next Cancel.