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Western

[8] George Stevens (Gunga Din, A Place in the Sun) directs this romanticized tale of an American western legend — Annie Oakley, the woman sharpshooter who could beat any man at gunplay. While the real Annie Oakley was surely rougher around the edges, Barbara Stanwyck carries this first film adaptation of Oakley’s life with strength and compassion. The screenplay centers around Oakley’s romance with a …

[8] Just as she did with The Piano nearly thirty years ago, director Jane Campion exposes the tragic consequences of rigid gender conformity in The Power of the Dog. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a deeply closeted gay cattle rancher in 1925 Montana. When his brother (Jesse Plemons) brings his new bride (Kirsten Dunst) and her effeminate son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to live with them, Cumberbatch cruelly …

[7] Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Huston square off in this western about a father and daughter fighting over who will control the future of the family’s sprawling cattle ranch. The relationship begins as a loving, mentoring one, but transforms into a battle between master manipulators. When Huston hangs a belligerent squatter who’s also Stanwyck’s childhood paramour, they cross the point of no return. The Furies …

[6] John Wayne stars as a crotchety loner cowboy who goes in search of the gang who kidnapped his grandson. Big Jake is not a serious western. It’s more of a nostalgic love letter to old big-studio westerns. Sometimes that love undercuts the drama. Even though a boy’s kidnapping is what spurs the characters into action, they begin their adventure like a trip to Disney …

[7] Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck star in Andrew Dominik’s dramatization of the last months of famous outlaw Jesse James’ life. Pitt plays James and Affleck plays his admirer-turned-assassin, Robert Ford. The young Ford character is smitten from the outset, but ridicule from James and the other gang members slowly hardens his heart. Jealousy eventually turns him against his idol. As James, Pitt is unstable …

[7] John Wayne and Robert Mitchum headline this Howard Hawks western about a gunfighter-for-hire (Wayne) who teams up with a drunk sheriff (Mitchum) to help a family protect their land from a rival rancher. The plot to El Dorado was a little hard for me to follow. So many characters are introduced in the first half hour and the way allegiances are formed is a …

[6] Gregory Peck stars in William Wellman’s (The Ox-Bow Incident, The Story of G.I. Joe) eerie western about a band of thieves that wander into a Death Valley ghost town where a young woman (Anne Baxter) and her grandfather have struck gold. Yellow Sky is about the uneasy relationship between the two parties, a matter complicated by visiting Apache Indians and infighting within Peck’s crew. …

[8] A teenaged girl ropes an aging, alcoholic U.S. Marshall into helping her find justice for her father’s murder. In this age of sequels and remakes, it’s hard to believe one of them could actually be this good. The Coen Brothers take the John Wayne original (based on a book by Charles Portis), roll it in mud, fray the edges, and weave a telling that’s …

[7] Paul Newman reunites with director Martin Ritt (Hud, The Long Hot Summer) for this ensemble Western based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. It’s an Eastwoodesque performance from Newman, playing a reticent loner raised by Apaches who ends up having to protect a stagecoach crew that initially thumb their noses at him. I don’t think the ending was particularly well executed, but the characters …

[7] John Ford reteams with frequent leading man John Wayne in what is often considered one of the best Hollywood westerns ever made. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a loner returning home from the Civil War. After his brother’s family is murdered by Camanches, Ethan begins a five-year search for his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood). Wayne plays more than a charicature of himself for once, bringing …

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