Western Week: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Outlaws have long held a cultural fascination throughout our cultural history from the exploits of Robin Hood through the big names of the Old West and into the modern era of characters like Mr Nice or even Edward Snowden. There's something alluring about men (and women when they occasionally pop up) operating outside of the law and it's not hard to understand why. It's a freedom many of us do not and will never possess, a life supposedly liberated of the responsibilities that keep us all in check. It might be difficult to do, but some part of us reconciles the violence that comes with this kind of lifestyle by building up the mythology around the figure to such a degree that any untoward actions, however extreme, feel somewhat justified by that aura.

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Western Week: Ride with the Devil (1999)

Book One of Daniel Woodrell's Woe to Live On opens with a quote from Charles R. Jennison, a famous Jayhawker soldiering during the period of the novel; "Playing war is played out!" In those five short words, much of Woodrell's exploration of war through his narrator, Jake, is established. The way in which Jake narrates his story, with a sense of detachment and observation, establishes a central conflict between his 'boys' own' type experiences of fighting alongside his friends ("playing war") and the horror that eventually starts to wear him down as the violence escalates and the meaning is lost ("played out"). Woodrell uses this tension to write a visceral coming-of-age story that focuses on the personal, rather than the political.

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Western Week: The Homesman (2014)

One of the lesser known aspects of life out west was the emotional toll that it often took on the women who accompanied the men staking claims on the land as well as the claims jumpers, men who would jump in to an empty home whilst its owner was away and file for ownership to make money. In his Afterword, Miles Swarthout, son of author Glendon, states that the idea for The Homesman came from Swarthout's research into frontier memoirs, but there was scant information available on the period, specifically around the 1850s. He became fascinated not with the success stories of Manifest Destiny, but the 'Losers,' the men and women who could no longer cope with the rigours of frontier lifestyle and had to retreat to the relative safety of the east.

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Western Week: True Grit (2010)

"People do not give credence that a fourteen-year old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band."

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Western Week: Open Range (2003)

Lauran Paine was an incredibly prolific author with over 1000 works credited to that name and his various pseudonyms. His immersion in the history of the West (having written several non-fiction books on the topic too) gives the story a near-universal feel for that genre, but it also means there are times when it can feel quite cookie-cutter. There are, however, revisionist undercurrents running through it, something which is teased out beautifully by Storper's screenplay and Costner's direction. It's a novel of second chances and beginning again, for both Charley and the people he comes into contact with.

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The Mist (2007)

The writer-director combination of Stephen King and Frank Darabont is one of the most famous pairings of an author and film-maker, the sheer synchronicity of their works and styles yielding some spectacular results. The Shawshank Redemption, taken from a short story in King's Different Seasons collection (which we'll be returning to this week with Stand By Me) currently sits pretty at the number one spot on IMDB'S Top 250. The Green Mile is equally beloved by those who have seen it, despite its ability to make anyone cry buckets at the mere mention of John Coffey.

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