McCabe and Mrs. Miller
This Robert Altman Western falls during his post-M.A.S.H., pre-Nashville, early-1970s streak when he could practically do no wrong, but this fearless 1971 slice into America’s founding mythology is his greatest single achievement. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond’s Panavision work looks like Civil War photographs come to life, and the musty rooms and dank outdoors dominate the overwhelming mood of this simple story of a gambler/speculative businessman, McCabe (Warren Beatty), who arrives in the town of Presbyterian Church to start up a saloon/brothel, eventually going into business with the more experienced madame Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie). Some men come to town and make McCabe an offer for his establishment; he refuses and, well, being a Western, just guess what happens next. McCabe reaches greatness through Altman’s painstaking atmospheric detail and an unrelenting and subtle inversion of every heroic trope associated with the genre and the lie of manifest destiny. It is the spit, blood, and greed sculpting America one dead man and might-make-right move at a time that Deadwood aspires to be, even though that series has never plumbed as nakedly into the cynical sadness underpinning the survival of the fittest from which McCabe never wavers.