The Year of the Almost Western
True West|January 2021
Film historians will consider 2020 an anomaly in the history of Western film and television.
HENRY C. PARKE

The year 2020 was unsatisfying all around, and certainly for Westerns. From a purist point of view, if we strictly define Westerns as taking place in the Western U.S., between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century, it would be more accurate to say that it is a year of no Westerns at all. Every film, and most of the television programs, require generosity as to either period or locale to be included, although many are well worth seeing. With a COVID-19-shortened theatrical release year, there are only four 2020 features to point to.

Let Him Go, based on the Larry Winston novel, is set in the 1950s or 1960s—you have to guess based on the cars—in North Dakota, where retired Sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife, Margaret (Diane Lane), are crushed first by the death of their son. Then their grandson disappears, when his mother moves with her new husband to live with his off-the-grid Ma Barker-like mother and family. In a town because the century-old company was absorbed by Disney. Happily, The Call of the Wild didn’t get too Disneyfied, although lines were looped so that dogs originally said to be killed instead “ran away.” While somewhat PC, the film was much closer to Jack London’s novel than most of the myriad previous adaptations, partially because CGI’d dogs take direction better than real ones, making it possible to focus on their relationships as much as the human ones.

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