High Plains Drifter

Though he's now considered a seasoned veteran of film, it took quite a while for Clint Eastwood to make himself get to that level of stature. High Plains Drifter, Eastwood's second film, is a sort of tribute to the directors who "made him", if you will, the Western/action icon he is today - Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. At the same time, though, Eastwood is sort of making a stand against these directors, as he's started to come into his own style of film making. The film's quite good, especially for someone who's only directed one film before, and Eastwood mixes his style along with the styles of his two best collaborators.

High Plains Drifter is all about revenge, as one comes to understand by the end of the film. In the town of Lago, a Stranger has just ridden into town - a gunslinger, at that. At first glance he has no motives, misgivings, or opinions about the place - he simply wants a place to rest. However, after getting into a fight and killing the town's hired gunfighters, the Stranger's help is then pleaded for by the townsfolk. Apparently, the day the Stranger came to town was the day the town's previous gunfighters, all of whom were arrested, were released from prison and are now planning on looting the town they once served. The Stranger, at first, has no interest in helping the town as he sees no reason why he should. After being promised "anything" to aid the town, though, The Stranger agrees. What happens next is an unwinding tale of revenge, betrayal, denial, and existentialism.

It's hard to talk about the film without giving away what happens, because the ending is pretty much the strong-point for any arguments in support of these themes. All I'll say, though, is that Lago isn't all that it seems to be, and that The Stranger has definitely been to Lago before. High Plains Drifter is very unique, as far as Westerns go. It has a unique look, due to how and where Eastwood shot it, and this unique look is backed up by a unique score, which has more of an eerie and ghost-like quality to it than of typical Westerns.

There's also a feeling of karma to the film, if that makes any sense. The Stranger, who may appear to be Eastwood's darkest and most immoral character, actually stands as a sort of karma for the town. Whenever someone does something wrong, or morally ambiguous, The Stranger usually responds in a harsh, sometimes even cruel, punishment for whichever character committed what.

While the film is indeed a unique depiction of a Western, it does have its faults. Oftentimes, the film can drag in the quieter scenes, especially during the second act. This really messes with the film's flow, as the first and last act both have an even pace. There are also a few characters that, really, just aren't all that interesting. The three previous gunfighters, for instance, feel pretty weak (in terms of character) and Mrs. Belding, one of the miners' wives, seems to switch sides far too easily - going from mistrustful to "I'm going to attack you with scissors" to kind in a matter of less than ten minutes. That's just bad writing.

Character, actually, has a lot to do with this film as well. While most of the townsfolk are manipulative, cowardly, and corrupt, there are a very few, such as Mordecai the dwarf, that are very genuine. This genuineness is appreciated by The Stranger and makes Mordecai one of the few people he trusts, even at one point appointing him mayor AND sheriff - as the townsfolk did promise The Stranger "anything".

All his career, Clint Eastwood has wanted to separate himself from "The Man With No Name" - the mythic, romantic, and seemingly impervious gunslinger of The Dollars trilogy that put him on the map. Instead, he's wanted to create movies with more emotionally-impacting characters, in his bid to make them more realistic. In this film, regarding Mordecai, I believe Clint was trying to say that you don't need stature or a gun to be a hero - you just need character. Mordecai, though small in size, was tall in character.

High Plains Drifter is, indeed, a unique watch. It's style, score, and themes aren't ones you'd typically find in the genre, but Clint Eastwood makes them work splendidly. The film can kind of drag and there are spots of bad writing, but these aren't too bad of tarnishes to the film as a whole.

8/10 - Great





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