Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country For Old Men” paved the way for the contemporary neo-western, and filmmaker Taylor Sheridan has forged on, offering three films that push open the boundaries of the genre. The stories in “Sicario” and “Hell Or High Water” show a singularity in the definition of morality that is explored, but also create an identifiable experience through characters and story.
In a video essay by Jack’s Movie Reviews, Sheridan’s major filmography over the past few years is used as a template to identify what it means to be a neo-western. Beyond the simplistic definition of a western set in modern times, the video essay breaks down three ways by which Sheridan has carefully outlined the themes and qualities of the sub-genre. The places Sheridan takes us have a general lack of rules, with characters guided by a singular moral compass, and a desire to find justice. Rooted in forms of neglect, violence, and systematic abuse, characters find themselves using the rules they have created as a guideline for how they seek justice, the two traits working hand-in-hand.
What connects the neo-western to the broader western genre is characters feeling a sense of remorse. It’s heavy and impactful, lending the portrayal of the first two traits to be all the more emotionally taut and morally ambiguous. What the neo-western filmography Sheridan has created thus far explores is the consequence of actions. While the look of the west has changed, the evolution of human nature goes much more slowly.