For many years, Venice has been a respectful platform for big-name directors of the 1970s and early 1980s who are happy to return to the fray long after juicy studio budgets have dried up: Brian De Palma , William Friedkin, Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter and, to a lesser extent, George Romero found a home here for their last-minute passion projects. Walter Hill, now 80, joins their ranks with an incredibly youthful horse opera, and while it shows the limitations of writing and filming a western in the modern age (compromises have to be made to modern sensibilities, and cinematography digital somehow just doesn’t cut it), yet it’s a wickedly enjoyable genre game full of violent surprises.
Hill dedicates his film to Budd Boetticher, which is a shame, as he has given critics permission to no longer think of a film that is really more of a spaghetti western in style, themes, and music (Xander Rodzinski’s score is impressive, even if you never quite find the Morricone-style motif you seem to be looking for). And because of the Boetticher reference, many have latched on to his hero character as a stand-in for their favorite Randolph Scott, but there’s also plenty of sneaky Eli Wallach in the form of Max Borlund, a gnomish, meticulous European bounty hunter played by Christoph. Waltz.
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Borlund has been hired by a businessman named Kidd to return his wife Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), who has apparently been kidnapped by a renegade Buffalo soldier, Elijah Jones (Brandon Scott), for a hefty ransom. To locate the missing couple, Borlund is assigned black Cavalry Sergeant Poe (Warren Burke), but his mission is interrupted, first by the arrival of vicious crime boss Tiberio Varga (Benjamin Bratt) and then by the return of an old enemy from Borlund’s past. : Joe Cribbens (Willem Dafoe), a cunning bank robber and loan shark whom he helped lock up for five years. How these stories come together is fun and fresh in the way the original series of spaghetti westerns were, playing on humor that was missing from the John Ford years and enjoying the anarchy of the frontier spirit instead of praising the Lawman who wants to shut everything down. .
In that sense, Waltz is an excellent fit for Borlund: always thinking, always recalibrating, never stressed, allowing chaos to swirl around him like the opening scenes of the 1970 film. kill him! Playing yin to his yang, and channeling more than a hint of the kind of rebels played by the big hitby Tomas Milian, Dafoe is just as good, and the opening scene that raises the curtain makes it clear that whatever happens along the way, it’s clearly these two who are headed for the showdown.
Any western before 1971 the hired hand traditionally had a problem with female characters, and dead for a dollar bravely tries to defy those stereotypes: the feisty Rachel is a headstrong woman who loathes what she has become, a “decoration wife” for the increasingly obnoxious and deceitful Kidd. And where US westerns tended to insist on the adversarial relationship between pioneers and Native American communities, Hill picks up the spaghetti western’s fascination with Mexico, creating an indelible character for Luis Chávez as Esteban, the polite but amoral Tiberius. Poe and Jones are also given strong backstories and agency, and what may at first seem like the smooth pedaling of the race gives Hill license to pull the rug out from under us when the bullets start to fly. So much so that it really looks like we could end up in Sergio Corbucci’s boundless fatalism. the great silence.
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Unfortunately, the incongruous brightness of digital and the dull use of sepia tend to dull the emotion, creating a distracting conflict between the film’s ultra-modernity and nostalgia. Yet it still reveals a master’s eye for film history and reminds us of the western’s power for political commentary, which Italians realized long before Sam Peckinpah: Corbucci’s director. django is earlier wild group for three years. Perhaps for this reason, more than anything else, dead for a dollar was invited here.