We’re all getting really excited for Red Dead Redemption II, which is due to hit consoles on October 26th. The prequel follows the exploits of Arthur Morgan, a senior member of Dutch’s gang from the first game. You and your band of criminals travel around the countryside, looking for ways to live free of the government circa 1899, America. Naturally, this leads to a whole bunch of Western activities, including robberies, on-horse shootouts and standoffs, as well as activities like hunting, fishing and managing the camp. But the game isn’t here yet, which may be driving many of you crazy, myself included as the wait has been painfully long, with a reveal that dates back to 2016 and a pretty long delay along the way. So to get you in that western mood as we inch towards October, I’ve compiled a list of shows and movies that I recommend you watch as we wait to ride in the Van Der Linde Gang in the prequel to the 2010 classic. The titles on this list feature characters and stories that are rougher around the edges to fit in with the tone of the game, so there’s no Magnificent Seven or Shane on this list, despite their standings as classics. Also, it’s worth noting that I’ve yet to see Deadwood (gasp), so that’s why you won’t find it here. For that, I apologize.
HELL ON WHEELS
Hell on Wheels is an AMC production that takes place shortly after the American Civil War. The main character is Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount), a former Confederate soldier on the hunt for revenge in the Northern Union States. His quest sees him becoming the foreman on the Union Pacific Railroad, the first Transcontinental Railway in America. Over the five seasons, he works to get the railroad complete while dealing with internal and external threats to the railroad and the camp. The show is named after the mobile camp that follows the construction and the writers do an excellent job of showcasing the various classes at work on the railroad, including the rich investors, the shady saloon owners and the Freemen who worked in the cut. The show also shows what religion was like in such a lawless land and what those who already live on that land, like the Natives and the Mormons, think about the railway coming through and later on, the use of Chinese on the western line. Bohannan is simultaneously charming yet dangerous, a man of principles that you don’t want to cross. All the side characters are fully realized and have their own backstories and character arcs, which makes the camp feel alive. Motivations change and new alliances get forged so the battle lines are constantly shifting here. Co-starring with Mount is Common as Elum Ferguson, a Freeman who wants to be more than a former slave working for almost no wage and earning no respect. The pilot episode is a little rough around the edges in terms of pacing, editing and even story, but it picks up after that and continues to improve, with season four being my personal favourite.
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD HENRY FORD
Right off the bat, let me just say that while The Assassination of Jesse James is a great movie, it can be painfully slow at times and clocks in at around two hours and forty minutes. But if you can get past that, what you’ll find is a pretty solid western tale. Brad Pitt stars as the titular Jesse James, the real-life outlaw that was seen as something of a Robin Hood figure. Co-starring is Casey Affleck as Henry Ford, a man who wants to be just like Jesse James and is honestly a bit of a fanboy. Ford seeks James out and wants to join in on the gang, who are planning a great train robbery. That scene just so happens to be the movie’s highlight as it was filmed without any studio lighting in the pitch black of night. Torches and the train supply the only light and it creates a visually stunning scene-one Red Dead 2 seeks to emulate in a scene that we can see in an earlier trailer for the game! Both the leads give strong performances and if you’re a fan of the genre, you should check this one out at least once.
Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven would go on to win Best Picture and Best Director at the 1993 Oscars, so you know there’s some quality filmmaking going on here. The plot follows Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny, a former bandit who’s living the quiet life in the country. He’s called to find justice for a prostitute who was disfigured by a local tough guy. The working girls searched for justice and didn’t find it, so pooled their money together to find an outlaw willing to find them their justice if the law wouldn’t. Despite being reformed, Will needs the money and takes the job and sets him on a path of violence and confrontation. Co-starring is Morgan Freeman as Will’s partner Ned Logan and Gene Hackman as the local corrupt sheriff, who also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The film questions who really are the just beings in a lawless land? While Munny, Logan and Richard Harris’ English Bob are all bandits, they are more honourable than the lawmen who are sworn to protect the citizens. It’s an interesting look at the inner workings of flawed men in the west.
This Netflix limited series is probably the closest thing to Red Dead in terms of style, character and appearance. Executive produced by Steven Soderberg, the show follows the exploits of Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), a former bandit on the run from his former gang. The leader of the said gang, Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels, who won Best Actor in a Supporting Role award at the 2018 Emmys) is in hot pursuit with thirty strong after Roy betrayed the gang. Roy believes Frank is getting too brutal with his methods and makes off with the latest score, which infuriates his father-figure. Roy takes up shelter near the town of LaBelle on a ranch run by Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), who is a bit of a badass herself. Daniels is terrifying in this role, as it always feels like a piano chord is about to snap when he’s on-screen. The show opens on the aftermath of a massacre carried about by Frank and the audience knows that behind his calm nature, lies a ruthless man who can snap at any second. The town that a lot of the show takes place in fell victim to a mining incident, which means most of the men are dead. It’s up to the ladies of the town to stick up and fight for themselves, in a move that steps away from convention but feels completely plausible and natural. The show has breathtaking cinematography which was all filmed in natural lighting and presented in widescreen, a rare treat for television shows. The violence is also pretty extreme, but not just in the graphic nature of it all, but in how abrupt and viciously it starts. But out of everything on this list, I believe that this show captures that grit and attitude found in Red Dead Redemption most, down to how the characters speak to each other and for that, fans should definitely check it out.
While they were never intended to be known as a trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few More Dollars and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly have come to be known as The Dollars Trilogy or The Man With No Name Trilogy due to the fact that in all three films, Clint Eastwood plays a poncho-wearing bandit with no name. Additionally, all three films are directed by the great Serio Leone. The trilogy is the only set of spaghetti westerns on this list. Before the 60s, the Western was a staple of Hollywood but had lost some interest in the with the studios in the new decade. So the Italians started making Westerns instead and filmed them in Europe, with European co-stars and crew. Amazingly, this grittier version of the Western took off and its poster boy was none other than Clint Eastwood. The most iconic films of that subgenre are these films, arguably. A Fistful of Dollars, Clint Eastwood’s first role, is essentially an unofficial remake of the Japanese samurai film Yojimbo, directed by the great Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai), both of which I also heavily recommend for cinephiles, and follows The Man with No Name (or the Stranger, or Joe as he’s nicknamed) as he pits two families against each other and profits from the conflict. In For a Few Dollars More, Eastwood plays a man nicknamed Manco plays a bounty hunter while in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly sees him working under the nickname Blondie and features one of the most iconic standoffs in cinematic history. But I won’t share that one here, as you should watch the whole movie for yourself. For now, here’s a taste with the standoff from A Fistful of Dollars. It’s never officially stated, but the Man with No Name is heavily implied to be the same character in all three films, hence why these films are known as the Dollars Trilogy.
3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
Before he did The Wolverine and Logan, Joe Mangold made himself known to audiences for directing the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Now, normally I’m not a big fan of remakes and reboots, but Mangold’s version of 3:10 to Yuma is one heck of a great Western and ranks as one of the best. Christian Bale stars as Dan Evans, a farmer who lost a leg and is down on his luck. He needs money for the farm and his family and is an honourable and just man, having never been an outlaw or a bandit. His life gets turned upside down though when Russel Crowe’s Ben Wade gets captured and Evans steps up to escort him to the train station to catch the 3:10 to Yuma for a considerable fee. Hunting down Evans and his son is Wade’s gang, led by Ben Foster’s Charlie Prince, a notoriously violent criminal. Wade may be ruthless and cunning himself, but he also values loyalty and honour, something he sees in the Evans family and Wade finds himself actually enjoying their company, which perhaps may make life difficult the close the gang gets to them.
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Regardless if you’re a fan of westerns or not, if you’re a fan of classic cinema, you deserve to check out Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, this 1969 film tells an embellished version of the hunt for the titular bandits. The film follows the two thieves as they run across the wilds of the United States as they’re pursued by lawmen. They had recently pulled off a train robbery that didn’t go quite as planned and now a posse is hot on their heels. Butch and Sundance try to no avail to find amnesty but they continue to find doors closed on them. The question of how viable is living as a crook in the west is the central theme of the film as the two once-great bandits find the walls to be closing rapidly around them. Initially, when the film was released, critics hated it! It was panned and thought to have been a disaster. But later reviews of the film have changed that tune and now the film is considered to be a classic in the genre. For train robberies, great vistas of Wyoming and seeing two legendary actors work side by side, this one is worth the watch.
Are you excited for Red Dead Redemption II? Going to be picking up a copy? What are you most excited about so far? Let us know and be sure to check out our review of Shane Black’s Predator and why we think The Newsroom should come back in 2019.
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