Thursday, January 21, 2021
The history of movie Westerns more or less begins with the end of the Old West itself. Westerns thrived in the silent era, and though the genre’s popularity has ebbed and flowed ever since — largely fading from view in the ’80s but enjoy several resurgences in succeeding decades — it’s never threatened to fade away. The Western is a vital genre with the habit of reinventing itself every few years that doubles as a way to talk about America’s history while reflecting on its present. A strand of violent, psychologically complex Westerns that appeared in the 1950s, for example, captures both changing attitudes toward the settlement of the West and the treatment of Native Americans while channeling the spirit of a country still recovering from a devastating World War. And while there are certain themes and elements that define the genre, it’s also proven to be flexible, capable of playing host to many different stories and an infinite variety of characters. In Paul Greengrass’s terrific new film News of the World, for instance, Tom Hanks plays a traveling newsreader whose attempt to return a girl to her family doubles as a tour of a country whose divisions look like clear roots to some of our current national troubles.