Tuesday, June 29, 2010

High Plains Drifter (1973)


Mysterious gunman (Clint Eastwood) agrees to help a mining town defend itself from 3 criminals they put in jail some time ago, now being set free. All of which are connected by a dark secret some will kill to protect.

"It's what people know about themselves inside that makes 'em afraid."

To say High Plains Drifter absolutely caught me off guard would be a flagrant understatement. Dark, eerie, mysterious, it's a western unlike any western I've seen before it. Laced in supernatural elements, grounded by dark, far too real, characters, Eastwood, Tidyman, & Riesner sure created something worth a view. Different from the darkness of a Wild Bunch, because High Plains Drifter is a tale of the darkness of men. And the consequences that come when good people do nothing.

To make sure this gets across to the viewer, the filmmakers shock no more than 15 minutes in without "heroic" gunman raping a woman right off. A shocker to the system if I've ever seen one, and a perfect setup for the tone of the film. A near entire cast of anti-heroes. Which makes the film both difficult to watch, and gripping, as one tries to solve the underlying mysteries. What makes these people do what they do, and why. Questions reiterated to the viewer throughout the film, all coming to point in the grand finale.

Though don't think of it as all bad. To offer the viewer some characters to relate to we are given dwarf Mordecai (Billy Curtis), who befriends our stranger and acts as his second-in-command, and Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom), wife of local innkeeper, and last remaining moral conscience. The two provide much of the heart of the film, and serve as mediators between the viewer and the past. Bringing together the harsh reality of the town, with the simple western premise.

Bloom is especially strong in the role, providing the perfect balance to Eastwood's mysterious backstory. The rest of the cast serve their purpose, but during their bigger moments it must be said not all rise to the occasion. Luckily enough, it's never so bad that it takes away from the film, just doesn't offer much to it.

Of course one can afford to be mediocre in acting when Eastwood's direction is so steadfast. Utilizing an eerie score, the dark shots Eastwood has become known for, mixed in with classic Western setup, it's a strong visual film throughout. The sort of film one images wears on the mind of those involved because of all that is put into it.

Brilliantly blending darkness with the classic western, Eastwood and company have crafted something truly unique in High Plains Drifter. Those seeking western chipper, and humor, dare not apply, High Plains Drifter is a dark, analytical, take on humanity, and the cost of our selfishness.

2 better thoughts:

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

This is definitely my favorite Eastwood western. I've seen just about all of them but this one is really is only one that I can constantly remember. It's also a film that's got a lot of aspects that are widely open to interpretation, such as the "rape" scene. I don't think that scene is that cut and dry to just label it as such, it's quite a bit more complicated. I think the character received exactly what she was looking for and she being the one who instigated it is partly to blame even if that wasn't her goal. I'm not condoning what Eastwood's character does, but I also think there's a lot more behind it and you can get that just from the conversation that leads up to that scene and the interactions between the characters after. It's all part of what makes this film classic, because nothing is that simple.

Anonymous said...

I need to watch this one again. It's been many years and I barely remember a thing from it.

Next week on my site we're doing a festival of Django movies and one of the ones we're doing "Django the Bastard" has been called an inspiration for High Plains Drifter by some from what I understand. I'm interested to watch them and compare the two now.

Great review, I'll definitely give this one another look after reading this. Love a good anti-hero film.

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