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(Credit: Focus Features)

Film

Five alternative westerns to upset Sam Elliott

@Russellisation

No one had any qualms with Sam Elliott until he randomly decided to go after Jane Campion’s revisionist western masterpiece The Power of the Dog, calling the film a “piece of s**t,” in an unprovoked rant on the WTF podcast. Hating on the film for its more modern take on the Western genre along with several other bizarre personal annoyances, Elliott has written himself into the bad books of the modern industry. 

Criticising the cowboys in Campion’s film, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons among others, Elliott compared the characters to Chippendales dancers who “wear bow ties and not much else”. Elaborating, the actor adds, “That’s what all these f**king cowboys in that movie looked like…They’re running around in chaps and no shirts,” making reference to the homosexual subtext of the film that questions the role of masculinity in the long-established genre. 

“Where’s the western in this western?” Elliott questions, unable to see past the lack of shoot-em-up scenes in the director’s careful analysis of gender in the wild West. Despite calling Campion “brilliant”, Elliott goes on to attack her, clarifying, “What the f**k does this woman from down there know about the American West?” before concluding that the whole film just “f**king rubbed me the wrong way”.

Making his stance on the Western genre clearly known, we thought we’d take a look at five other alternative genre films that might rile up Sam Elliott in a similar way.

Five alternative westerns to upset Sam Elliott:

Bone Tomahawk (S. Craig Zahler, 2015)

A lover of subverting expectations and toying with genre, the American filmmaker S. Craig Zahler did just this with Bone Tomahawk in 2015, a seemingly normal Western story with moments of explosive violence. 

Presumably ‘too dull’ for Sam Elliott, showing off a complex narrative that refuses to celebrate American patriotism, Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, David Arquette and Richard Jenkins. Though mundane and plodding for much of its runtime, the film is worth a watch for its shocking twists and turns in the final act, revealing a grizzly layer of Western film out of nowhere. 

Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)

If Sam Elliott isn’t a fan of cowboys “running around in chaps and no shirts,” we don’t think he would be a fan of Ang Lee’s game-changing LGBTQ masterpiece, Brokeback Mountain

Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, Lee’s film follows the lives of two shepherds who strike up a passionate relationship despite being both married to separate partners. Though the film doesn’t abide by the typical structure of the Western, it remains a definitive film of the genre as it questions the constructs that such movies have long upheld, explaining how American masculinity had failed modern men. 

Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

“Where’s the western in this western?” Elliott would surely cry whilst watching Dead Man by the eccentric American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, with the film tracking the footsteps of an accountant and murderer named William Blake. 

Starring Johnny Depp, the film details Blake’s journey through the American west as he encounters an aboriginal man named Nobody who leads the protagonist on a journey into the spirit realm. It’s a strange, fantastical and vibrant film featuring Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Jared Harris and Billy Bob Thornton as well as Jarmusch’s long-time collaborator Iggy Pop. Mixing comedy, adventure and surrealism, Dead Man certainly isn’t your most conventional Western.

El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970)

Surely too strange and too un-American to whet Elliott’s appetite, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal 1970 cult classic El Topo was filmed in Mexico, far away from the country the actor deems as the only place to film a Western.

Starring the director in the lead role as a mysterious black-clad gunfighter wandering through a mystical desert landscape, encountering several surreal characters, El Topo would become Jodorowsky’s crowning glory. Endorsed by John Lennon who was in love with the film upon its release, El Topo has since become an iconic film of the Western genre, subverting American ideals in favour of something far more ethereal.

The Rider (Chloé Zhao, 2017)

“What the f**k does this woman from down there know about the American West?” Sam Elliott insultingly said of Jane Campion, criticising the New Zealand-based director for daring to comment on the myth of the USA.

For similar reasons, we’re not sure the actor would be such a fan of The Rider either, Chloé Zhao’s terrific second feature film about masculinity at the heart of American identity. The Chinese-born director has come to prove herself as one of the greatest filmmakers working today, having The Rider, Songs My Brothers Taught Me and the Best Picture winner Nomadland to show for it.