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The Keeping Room 

Wednesday, Sep 30 2015
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When Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven came out in 1992, many Western fans were up in arms about its unsentimental take on the genre. It wasn't the first time; John Wayne legendarily called Fred Zinneman's 1952 High Noon "the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life," while director Howard Hawks especially hated how the hero's wife came to the rescue, so he and Wayne made the macho siege film Rio Bravo in response. But revisionist westerns with women in lead roles have become a welcome trend in the 2010s, and a surprising number feature Hailee Steinfeld. In Daniel Barber's The Keeping Room, Southern woman Augusta (Brit Marling), her younger sister Louise (Steinfeld), and their slave Mad (Muna Otaru) are trying to survive in the waning days of the Civil War, and must defend their homes and their bodies against a pair of Union soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) on a rape-and-kill spree through the apocalyptic landscape. Wayne and Hawks would have lost their shit at the idea of a siege film starring women, and the picture can also work as rebuttal to Don Siegel's "Southern bitches be crazy" drama The BeguiledThe Keeping Room is dark and violent and ends on an ambiguous note, but so did the Civil War and, arguably, the era of Westerns.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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