As I prepare to make my 12 Westerns in 12 Months project in 2020, I continue to study the Western genre. I have decided to share some of these discoveries with the hope that you also will take a close look at these films.
The Weekend Western: Sweet Country
Sweet Country was released this year and you probably haven’t heard of it. Like many films, it premiered at festivals in late 2017 to rave reviews but got little to no attention when it came out in the U.S. When I saw the title on the shelves at Walmart, I did what I haven’t done in a long time: purchased a DVD off the new release rack and it was the best movie pick I’ve made in a long time.
This Western, shot and directed by Warwick Thornton, is the best film I’ve seen in 2018 and it is one of the best ever Australian entries in the genre, alongside The Proposition and The Tracker. But be aware, this film is not for your relaxed viewing pleasure. Like all great films, in my opinion, it requires more from the viewer than passive observation. It’s a stark, minimalist experience. Flashbacks disbursed throughout the narrative, shown in a fascinating style with no sound accompaniment, might confuse you at first but with time and patience, these images come together with the story for what becomes more powerful every minute.
For a long time now, I have argued that it is the thematic nature of a film that makes it a Western more so than the plot, setting or style. The Western is at its heart a genre that revolves around the question of justice: what is it, how it is properly or improperly carried out, who are the men and women that sit on either side of it. Sweet Country is a true Western in its exploration of these themes. It does what I tried to do with my movie Blood Country and takes it to a masterful level. I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.