Kyle Atwood is a published author of fiction who plays too many video games and watches too many movies to be of sound mind.
When Sergio Leone's sun-baked A Fistful of Dollars hit theaters in 1967, too many movie critics dismissed it as a cheap, European knockoff of their beloved Western genre. However, when audiences went to see this film, they loved how relative this world was. Eventually, the film hit #1 in the US box office.
After its initial run, A Fistful of Dollars gained a cult following and set a new bar for the Western genre as a whole. For example, when you look at some of Quentin Tarantino's work with Westerns, such as Django: Unchained or The Hateful Eight, you see this obscure punk style make its return in brazen fashion.
I have just had the pleasure of viewing Sergio Leone's iconic spaghetti western classic A Fistful of Dollars (it created the genre, let's be honest) for the first time and I would like to give my opinion about it. Before we begin, for those of you who do not know, a spaghetti western is a film about the old American West made with a minimal budget in Europe, normally by Italian producers. Spaghetti Westerns have a specific kind of flare and soul about them that no true Western can really reach. Spaghetti Westerns take all of the cliches of a Western and turn them up to eleven and A Fistful of Dollars is one of the pioneers of this style, and also one of Clint Eastwood's most iconic roles, as well as his very first leading role, as "The Man With No Name". Anyway, on with the review!
The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood) enters the village of San Miguel, a Mexican town in the midst of a power struggle among the three Rojo brothers (Antonio Prieto, Benny Reeves, Sieghardt Rupp) and sheriff John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy). When a regiment of Mexican soldiers carrying gold intended to pay for new weapons is ambushed by the Rojo brothers, the stranger inserts himself into the middle of the feud, selling false information to both sides of the struggle for his own benefit.
A Fistful of Dollars has been identified as a retelling of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo a Japanese film from 1961 about a nameless samurai who finds himself in a small village caught in a battle between two rival families. Yes, the samurai works for both sides and, yes, the samurai is discovered. You know the rest.
While A Fistful of Dollars is a retelling of another film, it is still masterful in its execution.
Everybody does their job fantastically, despite the rather cheesy voice-overs. They seem to convey the theme of a savage town and the struggle of being caught in a power feud quite well, everyone seems truly on edge.
I'd really like to talk about Clint Eastwood's iconic performance. He kind of established the modern view on a nameless bounty hunter rolling into another town to collect another bounty. He conveys this hard, cold, gritty character quite well, which would later eject him into similar roles like his performance in Dirty Harry. While not technically gifted, Clint Eastwood has always had an undeniable star quality and the tough guy persona is his trademark of that star quality.
A Punk-Rock Western
A Fistful of Dollars is what you get if you put the spirit of punk rock music in a melting pot with Western films. It is a cynical, violent, strict, and, most importantly, stylish tale set to the backdrop of endless deserts and clapboard towns crawling with vicious gunmen and paranoid citizens and I love it.
Age suits this film well and makes it that much more enjoyable. The overall visual of the obsolete footage format gives it this comic book vibe. For instance, when you look at the opening credits alone they are simple and bold and are one-of-a-kind.
I also love how Sergio gave no regard to tradition for a genre built on tradition and made his own movie. He flooded the film with personality: dramatic close-ups, a disregard for morality, and music that thrums like the dramatic pulse of Western film ideals.
A Fistful of Dollars embodies a progressive, rebellious attitude towards the conventions of movies that came before and wanted so badly to succeed in changing them. Unlike so many films that have had this same goal, A Fistful of Dollars succeeds at changing those conventions.
Honestly, while the story was, for lack of a better term, ripped off from the story of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, Sergio Leone's classic is plastered with original style and flair that no other director could even hope to pull off. So while the story isn't original, everything else about it is and, for that, I can let the film slide.
A Fistful of Dollars is an engrossingly morbid, violent film worthy of the praise and following it has received over the years. It has achieved a sense of agelessness and a status as a founder of one of the most beloved genres in film. It stood up against tradition when tradition nearly killed the Western genre, it went against all the negative statements towards it, and it established a new foundation for future directors to build from.
For fans of the Western genre, this is an absolute must-see and a must-have. For film buffs, it's the same ordeal considering the historical place this film holds. For casual moviegoers: maybe, if you're into retro films, by all means, give this one a go. If not, well, I wouldn't recommend it.
A Fistful of Dollars is rightfully iconic and, overall, an exciting film seeping with an original style and flair.
© 2019 Kyle Atwood