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The Contemporary Western

An American Genre Post 9/11

John White

Hardback (Forthcoming)

A distinctive examination of post-9/11 films in relation to the Hollywood western

The September 11th attacks in 2001 and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’ have had a profound effect on American cinema, and the contemporary Western is no exception. In this book, John White explores how films such as Open Range, True Grit and Jane Got a Gun reinforce a conservative myth of America exceptionalism; endorsing the use of extreme force in dealing with enemies and highlighting the importance of defending the homeland. Placing their characters within a dark world of confusion and horror, these films reflect the United States’ post-9/11 uncertainties, and the conflict between civilised values and the brutality employed to defend them.

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List of Figures


  1. Introduction
  2. Part I: The Cinema of Heroes and Heroic Action

  3. Reclaiming the heroes and heroic attitudes of classic Westerns: Open Range (Kevin Costner, 2003).
  4. Restoring the Western hero and reclaiming the classic Hollywood experience: True Grit (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2010).
  5. Defending home, defending homeland: Jane Got a Gun (Gavin O’Connor, 2016)
  6. Part II: The Cinematic Big Screen, Surround Sound, Ride

  7. Updating the escapism of the Western: The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski, 2013).
  8. Affect and the immersive experience of bodily excess: The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2016).
  9. The anchorless postmodern experience within an ahistorical filmic space: Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012).
  10. Part III: The Cinema of Contemplative Reflection

  11. Employing religious concepts to address the political situation post-9/11: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, 2005).
  12. Living in a world of fear and inexplicable evil: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward, Robert Ford (Dominik, 2007).
  13. Conclusion

About the Author

John White teaches film studies at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. He is co-editor of Fifty Key British Films (Routledge, 2008), Fifty Key American Films (Routledge, 2009) and The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films (Routledge, 2014). He recently contributed chapters to books on Budd Boetticher and Delmer Daves in the Edinburgh University Press ReFocus series, and is the author of Westerns (Routledge, 2011) and European Art Cinema (Routledge, 2017).


The Contemporary Western offers a judicious interjection into a scholarly field currently dominated by transnational explorations. In refocusing the critical lens on the Western as a specifically American form, it illuminates the complex interplay between post-9/11 politics and established mythologies, demonstrating the genre’s continuing ability to shape the ideological perceptions of America’s popular-cultural imaginary.

- Matthew Carter, Senior Lecturer in Film, Manchester Metropolitan University

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