Dead for a Dollar15¦ Blu-ray, DVD
One genre that simply won’t die is the western. Despite having its hay day between 1940 to 1960, known as the “Golden Age of the western”, that was spearheaded by such legendary directors as John Ford, Sam Pekinpah and John Sturges, as well as made a screen icon out of John Wayne, the western continues to appear on the cinematic horizon from time to time.
A true stalwart of directing, with a particular penchant for the western is US director Walter Hill, who returns to the genre at the impressive age of 83.
1897 in New Mexico Territory and bounty hunter Max Borlund (Christoph Waltz) has just come face to face with an adversary of his Joe Cribbens (Willem Defoe) in prison, who tells him he’s getting out soon and he should watch out in case their paths cross again.
Borlund then finds himself introduced to a wealthy businessman Martin Kidd (Hamish Linklater) who has a job for him; it appears that his wife Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan) has been abducted by a soldier, Pvt. Elijah Jones (Brandon Scott), and Kidd would like him to hunt them down and bring his wife back. Borlund accepts the job and goes on his merry way.
It’s not long before he rides into a town, where Rachel is indeed there with Jones, but he soon discovers that perhaps her husband hadn’t exactly been truthful with him.
Meanwhile, a certain Cribbens rides into town and he has a score to settle.
Although we’ve has the revisionist movement re-examine the Western, updating its themes and giving it a bit of a makeover, Walter Hill delivers a mixture of old school and revisionist in one.
On an aesthetic level, it looks and feels like a traditional western. Hill fills his wide screen with wide roaming vistas, as cowboys dissect the landscape.
Then you have a bounty hunter, played convincingly by Waltz, who it seems has a sturdy moral code in which he’s prepared to work. You also have a looming boss figure, played by Benjamin Pratt, who has clearly stamped his authority on this small town, in a not very pleasant way.
And then you have the maiden in distress, played by Brosnahan, but it’s here that it feels as if Hill has done some updating, making her as she is a very capable, free thinking woman. And as she explains to Borlund, the situation isn’t quite as her hubby made it out to be.
It feels quite impressive to see Hill both writing and directing at his considerable age, but thinking about it, it was the norm for directors like Ford, who were still behind the camera at a late stage of life and career.
The film also has a cracking soundtrack, by Xander Rodzinski, that really amplifies the western setting in an impressive fashion.
It’s a film that may not have the impact of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven say, or the modernist vibe of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, nor be deemed a modern classic of the genre, but it’s still good to see a strong cast working under someone like Hill, who still has a commanding presence on screen, and still knows his way around a western.