Declared dead and buried more times than the wiliest outlaw, the Western rides on, with two excellent entries set for release this fall alone: Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain and Tommy Lee Jones's neo-Peckinpah revenger, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Clearly, the genre still has legs; as long as there's an America with horses and guns, there's material for oaters both old-school and revisionist.
And yet, if there had to be a final Western, Once Upon a Time in the West would be it. The gorgeous nostalgia supplied by Sergio Leone's mythic 1968 summation work—in many ways a tombstone for a certain kind of Western hero, of an "ancient race," as Charles Bronson says—packs a wallop. The story, cobbled together by the director and young film enthusiasts Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci, plays like a collection of the genre's greatest hits: the tense, real-time set pieces of High Noon; the mysterious hero of Shane; the encroaching antlike forces of civilization as explored in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
This being a Leone film, though, the proceedings are infused with a luridness that might best be called "Italian": The bangs are big, the score (one of Ennio Morricone's most beautiful) is twangy, and the faces are craggy and huge, filling the widescreen frame completely. Those who have never seen this amazing film in a theater now have an opportunity to redeem themselves.—Joshua Rothkopf