The fall season of 2007 has produced four films that challenge how we understand the genre of the Western. In September, we had James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma and Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Here in November we have the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men. The end of the year will see the release of P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood.
The Mangold picture is perhaps the most earnest of the four, taking up the genre as something to be applied to a story: the genre as a cycle. Dominik's picture, while rooted in the 19th century, attempts to inherit the genre as a medium for its recurring tropes and themes, but the film falters under its own weight and has less to say about Westerns than it does about celebrity culture. The Coens break from the 19th century in explicit terms—their film is set in 1980—but their inheritance of the tradition of "local color" writers (like Twain or Cooper) helps ground one's understanding of No Country For Old Men as a Western. There Will Be Blood bridges the 19th and 20th centuries in its opening 10 minutes, eclipsing the reliance on the designated past one often (misguidedly) associates with the Western, but its obsessions with frontiers, isolation and the American myth of perfectionism may help us to better understand how I want to characterize what a Western is today—or, how the Western genre may still be viable, and more alive than we think—as best as time and space allow.
To read the rest of the review at The Daily Californian, click here.