feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
After with great critical and commercial success in his directing debut, Play Misty For Me, Clint Eastwood returns two years later with a sophomore entry that leans closer to the actor’s roots, once again drawing from his inspirations and collaborations with Don Siegel and Sergio Leone, High Plains Drifter is a film that brims with style, finding a fitting balance between Siegel’s sense of harsh characterisations and at times exploitative measures, while drawing much of its atmospheric and mythic ingredients from Leone’s trademark direction. It resembles the vibes of a Spaghetti Western, but it's layering of darkness has allowed the film to appear more progressive and daring than the synonymous films that preceded it.
Eastwood’s entrance into the minimally localised and unfinished town of Lago, there is an immediate establishment of the judgemental presence against his arrival, faces that either reverb a sense of recognition, fear, curiosity, or anger, one thing is for sure, his presence is sure to bring some trouble to this town. Wouldn’t you know it, much like in the vein of most Westerns, we gain insight into the skill tree of Eastwood’s mysterious stranger, provoked by three gunslingers, only to be outwitted and slain with such relative ease, not for a moment we feel a hesitance or tremor from Eastwood’s role, recalling once again the familiar heroics that defines the genre.
It is only almost immediately after, that we begin to see the antagonistic aspects of the stranger’s personality, forceful in his desires and unempathetic to the citizens of this town. Whom the townspeople thought could be a saviour to their looming threat, the potential arrival of three furious gunslingers whom seek to resolve some “unfinished business” with Lago and its citizens, is actually the devil himself, suppressing and manipulating the town to suit his personal needs and desires, infuriating them and pushing them over the edge, in that they take drastic measures to eliminate this figure.
Sure, Eastwood’s character is by no means close along the lines of being a saint, his character is cruel in a way that almost seems unredeemable, but Eastwood carries forward that mythic approach to an amplified extent, but does so with grace and at times subtlety, that it actually brings newer shade to what would have become a simple Western narrative. Eastwood is not afraid to challenge the audience in their perspectives of the “protagonist”, unwilling to provide critical history to his being, and instead provide visual hints to peel back some layers, but even then, it isn’t enough to fill the nutshell and with most of what we absorb in this story is mostly through the present events that are taking place.
High Plains Drifter should have been perfect with its thought-provoking, and arguably subversive, approach to its storytelling, but problems that plague its middle sections, notably through the repetition of Eastwood’s cruelty over the townspeople that would have aided with slight trimming, as Eastwood has set his plot out far too stretched, unable to justify the length that it has settled for aside from simply establishing mood, tightening his audience’s interest mostly through the film’s bookends. This is certainly still an impressive sophomore effort from Eastwood, clearly reinforcing the pathway of greatness that is deserving towards his directing career. I am certainly curious to see more of his works in the near future.