Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Once Upon A Time In The West

I figured a little gunfighting wouldn't hurt this month.

Once Upon A Time In The West is quite possibly the best western I've seen. I've seen my fair share from several decades, actors, and directors, and while I do still have a soft spot for The Dollars Trilogy nothing really hit this big of a scope or sense of drama in those movies. Which is funny because Sergio Leone directed both so regardless of which I prefer, Leone is the best western director in my eyes. After finishing The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly he didn't want to do another western but was actually forced into it by american production companies so he could make his next project, which is a bit rubbish because I would trust the man and his vision and just have him make the damn movie. But what we got is one of the most acclaimed and loved westerns of all time. Set around a collected ensemble cast, a young woman named Jill has returned to Texas to start her new life with her husband and children before learning of them being murdered by a group of mercenaries hired by a railroad tycoon who wants her land. Meanwhile a man has a vendetta against one of the mercenaries and is trying to track him down, while a wanted fugitive is sort of a wild card interacting with the three major players. They being the woman Jill, the hired killer Frank, the stranger known only as Harmonica, and the fugitive Cheyenne, but make no mistake this is Jill's movie. Every character dynamic is interesting no matter who you pair them with, the performances are excellent, and the story is in no rush and takes it's time with these characters. The film clocks in depending on the cut, either a little less than two and a half hours and one pushing almost three hours. Stick to the almost three hour version. I think the biggest reason why this might be favorite western is the performances, Claudia Cardinale is a wonderful lead and there wasn't a moment I was rooting for her, she just has such a compelling story I mean her family was massacred and she's just trying to pick up the pieces and move on, and she doesn't take any nonsense from quite frankly very vile and horrible men. She's just such a great actress and handles the material flawlessly. Charles Bronson is awesome as per usual as Harmonica, exuding an icy cool persona and his motivation and arc is more of your typical western fare but done great and his eyes just stare into your soul. Speaking of eyes, a surprising heel turn for Henry Fonda the leading man of that time and place in the world being a cold blooded killer probably ruffled some feathers back then, but I'd be lying if I said he wasn't really damn good in that role. And last but certainly not least, Jason Robards as the criminal Cheyenne is perplexing, if only just because I can't make heads or tails on where he stands, he's a criminal but doesn't really cause trouble and is simultaneously horrible and yet oddly amicable with Jill, you don't really know what his game is or his goals. But everybody else has very clear cut and intertwining goals, Jill's family was killed by Frank, Harmonica is seeking vengeance on Frank, Frank I guess took over Cheyenne's men, and Cheyenne and Jill have a bizarre relationship. Everything kinda fits but I think Cheyenne just does what he thinks will get him ahead in life, which clears up his character a bit. I belive this was Segio Leone's first time making a film in America, so it's not his standard spaghetti western style. There's gorgeous shots of the desolate West slowly being modernized by the ongoing train, the framing on people's faces always make their eyes center of the frame like if you were staring at them face to face, the action while not as prevalent as you would think is still done well and of course the final standoff is something to admire, and since it's a longer film it takes the time to focus on these characters which is what really pushes this film above all other westerns for me. Now there's nothing wrong with a western that has lots of shootouts and chases, and that's probably why For A Few Dollars More is easily my favorite of The Dollar's Trilogy because there is an emotional anchor and substance to Douglas Mortimer's character that makes you like him even more. Now that's not saying Clint Eastwood is boring in those movies, or has nothing going for him because he does but it's not really in the foreground, he's more the constant in those changing films. This movie takes a more dramatic weight to it, which is evident solely by the score done by Ennio Morricone. Just listen to Jill's theme, it honestly moved me to tears, this is his best piece of music above all others. Though Ecstasy Of Gold is so good even Metallica plays it before every show, Jill's theme is beyond outstanding and even if you don't watch the film you have to listen to the song. The best title I found for it is, C'era Una Volta Il West and man is it hard not to get a bit choked up, but even beyond just that single piece of music every character's individual themes are excellent. What can I say? The man was brilliant! And you know what, this movie was an unexpected choice for me but I'll never regret watching it. 4 stars, 8.5/10, a must see for any western fan or lover of great movies.

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