Once upon a time, the western genre dominated the box office, comparable to the way comic book movies do today. While the genre hasn’t died out completely, big studio westerns need to be remakes (True Grit, 3:10 To Yuma), updates of a classic property which the public has all but forgotten about (The Lone Ranger), have another genre grafted onto it (Cowboys & Aliens), or have Quentin Tarantino’s name on it (Django Unchained).
Of those titles mentioned above, the Coen brothers’ True Grit was perhaps the greatest critical success, which is ironic given that the original film, (which starred John Wayne in his first and only Oscar-winning role), is considered a classic of the genre. Now come reports that Tommy Lee Jones will write and direct a Warner Bros. remake of another Wayne western, 1972’s The Cowboys.
The plot follows rancher Wil Andersen, who has to recruit a crew of boys to help him drive his herd of cattle to sale when none of the local men will join him. They have to contend with a gang of cattle thieves – led by Bruce Dern (Big Love) – who are following them along the way. It is not known at this point if Jones will also star.
Tommy Lee Jones and westerns go way back – he stars as a claim jumper who helps escort a group of insane women from Nebraska to Iowa in most recent directing effort The Homesman; his 2005 film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was a modern-day western revenge tale, and his directorial debut was a TV movie western, The Good Old Boys.
Jones’ path to stardom really began with his role in the famous 1989 TV miniseries, Lonesome Dove and he impressed as a tracker in Ron Howard’s The Missing and as a Texas sheriff in the Coen Brothers’ modern-day Cormac McCarthy western-noir, No Country For Old Men. He seems to really come alive these days in historical roles, like his firebrand abolitionist congressman in Lincoln, and while he’s always a solid presence, he appears to almost resent appearing in blockbusters like Captain America or Men In Black 3.
John Wayne’s name is even more synonymous with westerns than Clint Eastwood’s, having starred in more than 80 of them. While well-regarded, The Cowboys is not exactly a beloved classic on the level of True Grit or Rio Bravo, although it is notable for being one of the very few Wayne films in which his character dies at the end.
So if Jones is going to remake a John Wayne film, he’s smart to avoid the iconic classics, although the outraged fanbase of such things is not as big or vocal as some other genres. My dad hated the True Grit remake, though… so Jones might still need to be careful.
There is currently not release date available for Jones’ remake of The Cowboys, but stay tuned for more information as it becomes available. The Homesman is currently in post-production.