Red Dead References: Western Film Homages In RDR2

Well like many people I’ve been playing a lot of Rockstar Games’ glorious, sure to be Game of The Year Red Dead Redemption 2….too much, really.
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As an avid western film and history fan I’ve been thrilled by the amount of period detail in every nook and cranny, and having put in several hours gameplay, I’ve noticed quite a few visual callbacks to western movies – classics like The Wild Bunch and Outlaw Josey Wales, etc. I thought it might be fun to list some examples. A couple of these are pretty obscure, and could well be my own wishful thinking.

I’m only three chapters into the game, but these are some of the references I’ve noticed so far.

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Every time I peel the hide off a rabbit I’m reminded of hapless Jeff Bridges in one of my favorite westerns, Bad Company.

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Muddy Valentine sure reminds me of the sloppy streets of this Michael J. Pollard movie, Dirty Little Billy. Couldn’t find a good pic of the town itself, but the cast seems to wade in mud and horse shit.

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With it’s unpainted, under construction buildings (and tyrannical Emerald Ranch boss), I was also reminded of the muddy town of Harmonville from Open Range, a movie that informs much of RDR2’s fashion sense as well.

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Speaking of fashion, the custom legendary animal skin hats the trapper crafts are obviously a callback to Jeremiah Johnson.

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Though the bear attacks are right out of The Revenant….

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The unrepentant Rebels of The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Long Riders are somewhat akin to the Lemoyne Raiders that plague you around the town of Rhodes, though the latter movie’s preferred mode of dress seems to inspire the various bounty hunters and Pinkertons that come after you in the course of the game. Two Carradines from The Long Riders pictured here at what could very well be Clemens Point.

nobodyMy Name Is Nobody sees Terrence Hill and Henry Fonda square off in the streets of New Orleans, obviously the reference for the town of Saint Denis.
silenceThe snowbound country of West Grizzly and extraterrestrial-plagued (look it up) Mount Shann reminded me instantly of the Corbucci classic The Great Silence, and it’s surely where the devs got their love of the broom handled Mauser pistol.

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The town of Presbyterian Church from McCabe and Mrs. Miller seems to lend its look to the hilly town of Strawberry (is Strawberry a reference to Moebius’ seminal western comic Blueberry? I might be reaching there).

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The assorted bumbling Klansmen one can encounter in the game are surely in part a reference to the idiotic (and flammable) proto-Klansmen depicted in Django Unchained.

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I know I’ve seen that scarecrow riding around the wheat fields – I think near Emerald Ranch. Hard to distinguish this from actual game footage, but this shot is from Slow West with Michael Fassbender.

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Finally (and this is just a bit of fun on my part), I doubt anybody at Rockstar has read my Merkabah Rider series,Merkabah Rider series, but it doesn’t stop me from using this engraving customization to mock up an approximation of the Rider’s Volcanic pistol.

What are some visual references you’ve noticed? I may amend this post as I progress through the game.

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Six Great Foreign Westerns You Might Have Missed

A while back I did one of those lists, 7 Gritty Westerns You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, shedding light on a fistful of down and dirty 70’s era western movies in the cinema verite style which I hadn’t heard a lot of hooplah about but really enjoyed.

I recently watched a spate of fantastic western movies from the other side of the world and have similarly been inspired to list them here. I know some western fans tend to denigrate the efforts of non-American filmmakers in the original American art form, but they’re definitely missing out.  These pictures prove that some of the most innovative and interesting horse operas being made to day are being imported to our shores, just as in the early days of the much lauded Italian spaghettis.

1. Brimstone – If ever there was an anti-Searchers, it has to be Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven’s sprawling, nihilistic epic about a crazed Reverend (Guy Pearce, in yet another great performance that by all rights should be a breakout part for him but like everything else he does, somehow isn’t given its due) relentlessly pursuing tongueless midwife Liz (Dakota Fanning) for reasons that only an attentive viewing of the slowly unraveling nonlinear tale as it unfolds make clear, and which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling here.

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Brimstone is a dark, demented masterpiece, almost a psychological horror movie, and the less you know about the plot going in the better I think it is. It demands patience, but definitely rewards the viewer with a tragic, operatic story in the best bloody, grand guignol style. The gradual reveal reminded me of Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West.

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As I said, Pearce delivers an apocalyptic performance as the fanatic man of an increasingly mad and evil god. Emilia Jones gives a great turn, particularly for a young actress in such a stark, weighty part, and the cast is liberally peppered with vivid, memorable characters, including Kit ‘Jon Snow’ Harrington as a fugitive outlaw and Paul Anderson as a loathsome pimp.

2. Slow West -The joint British and New Zealand production of John Maclean’s Slow West presents one pie-eyed young Scot’s (Kodi Smit-McPhee, in a winsome, earnest performance) bildungsroman journey to reunite with his true love Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has fled the accidental killing of his own landowning father for the wilds of Canada. Jay, the kid, falls in with a cynical bounty hunter (Michael Fassbender) secretly out to collect a bounty on her head.

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Slow West is a lyrical coming of age story peopled by unique characters and featuring some absolutely eye popping cinematography.  There’s a great illusory action sequence of Ben Mendelsohn’s outlaw gang popping up from an unbroken field of tall golden wheat like whack-a-moles to exchange gunfire and then seamlessly vanish again that had my eyes bugging. Little moments are focused and lingered upon; blood pooling beneath a dead clerk, a nail catching on a corpse’s trousers as it’s desperately dragged across a porch so that a door may be shut against the hail of gunfire outside, the progression of a bright caterpillar across a camoflagued Indian warrior’s painted face. It’s a beautiful movie, and an affecting portrayl of innocence and responsiblity lost and regained.

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3. The Salvation – Kristian Levring’s lavish Danish western begins with an explanation of the migration of veterans of the Second Schleswig War of 1864, an event that hearkens to the westward flight of Confederate veterans to Texas following their parallel defeat at the hands of the Union, to the American frontier.

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Mads Mikkelson’s Jon and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), having eked out a stable living, have sent for Jon’s wife and ten year old son after a separation of seven years. Tragedy strikes on the stagecoach to the homestead when a pair of violent ex-convicts board and force Jon off. Jon walks through the night in the ruts of the stage, finally discovering his son murdered and then his wife brutalized and killed. In short order he kills the two perpetrators, but finds that one of them was the brother of powerful local gang boss Delarue (a really oily and odious Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who takes the nearby town hostage until the killer of his brother is turned over to him.

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Sort of an alternate take on High Noon’s theme of the lonely good man against bad odds, I found the alternate viewpoint of Danish settlers really interesting and the action inventive and top notch.  There’s a particularly great bit involving a guy shooting through the ceiling of a hotel at a sniper on the roof and a can of kerosense that you’ll know when it comes.

Likewise, The Salvation’s look is really unique, eschewing the typical dull beige pallette of most modern westerns for a bright, brilliant sun baked hue of sandstone that really makes it stand out.

4. The Dark Valley – This bleak, moody German-Austrian revenge tale from Andreas Prochaska doesn’t take place in the American west at all, but I’m still including it here as it has all the trappings of the genre.

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The mysterious stranger, photographer Greider (Sam Reilly), who rides into the remote mountain town hiding a secret only to systematically unleash a hell that turns out to be well deserved in the final reel reveal reminds me a lot of High Plains Drifter, and its snowbound gloom recalls Corbucci’s classic The Great Silence.

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The Dark Valley is a quiet, brooding movie, where the violence comes smashing down like an unexpected avalanche.

5. The Proposition – John Hillcoat’s  wild Australian western, written by Nick Cave, takes place in a bloodsoaked 1880’s outback.  Police Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers captured bushranger outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce again) and his simple minded younger brother Mikey freedom in exchange for Charlie hunting down his murderous older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), a notorious killer feared even by the Aborigines, who call him The Dog Man.

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Sort of a western Heart of Darkness, we follow the progression of Charlie’s hunt for his near-mythic brother across a virtual hellscape, replete with black clusters of flies and savage, half-wild bounty killers (including a grizzled John Hurt) and bear cringing witness to his eventual, ultraviolent return when the particulars of the titular proposition go tragically, if not predictably awry.

960The Proposition is brutal and beautiful, a dark acid western in the truest traditions of the genre.

6. The Warrior’s Way – OK this one is a huge thematic departure from the rest of this list, but I can’t help it, I really enjoyed it. It’s essentially a frenetic HK-style action movie from South Korea and New Zealand, directed by Sngmoo Lee.

Sad Flutes (named for the sound of blood whistling from a severed neck) clan master assassin Yang ( Jang Dong-gun) destroys a rival clan at the orders of his superiors, but stays his hand from doing in an infant girl. In derelict of duty he flees to the western town of Lode, populated by ex-carnies, and there raises the girl, April, in anyonymity, befriending a dwarf (Tony Cox), the town drunk (Geoffrey Rush), and a local girl (Kate Bosworth), who seeks revenge against a murderous gang leader known as The Colonel (The Proposition’s Danny Huston again) for murdering her parents and brutalizing her.

When the Colonel and his army arrive to finish the job, Yang takes up his sword to defend the town. But the very act of arming himself draws the attention of his old clan master Saddest Flute (Ti Lung), and the Sad Flutes arrive to punish their own.

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The Warrior’s Way is a slick, insane weird western actioner where legions of bandanna wearing, duster-clad, Maxim toting stormtroopers essentially butt heads with the Korean equivalent of faceless sword twirling ninjas, and I get absolutely giddy watching the CGI mayhem unfold. Blood fountains and rains (literally), and for some there will probably be as much eye rolling as head rolling. It portrays an at times hilariously over the top hyper reality of painted backdrops and never-could-be characters, Geof Darrow-esque mass super-violence in the mode of chanbara flicks and manga. Very imaginative, but admittedly not for everybody.

It sticks out like a sore thumb on this list, but if you can watch a scene like the one below and get a kick out of it, you’ll enjoy it (definitely NSFW):

Any one of these is worth a view, and in my opinon, a purchase.