High Plains Drifter

High Plains Drifter ★★★★

"Yes, they're my neighbors, and they make me sick! Hiding behind words like faith, peace and trust!"

Hell is a small town on the edge of civilization.

Black-as-pitch western about a community so desperately in need of a violent savior that they give a serial rapist complete control over their town in order to kill off a few bad guys. Turns out they might have bigger problems than the bandits. By giving the man with no name free reign, they expose their own hidden violence and the hypocritical values they've buried it under. They've come together as a community, but at the cost of the lives of other human beings. The unspoken exclusion (of the bandits, of the man with no name, of anyone who doesn't belong) grounding their little society rears its ugly head. It's not the receding frontier that needs to be purged of its savagery, it's the supposedly benevolent civilization that's replacing it.

Like Unforgiven, High Plains Drifter is almost unbearably cynical and nihilistic, but it's so visually artistic that there's still plenty to enjoy in it beyond the bleakness of the sociological critique. The cinematography is the clear standout for me: deep focus establishing and tracking shots construct the town as a distinct entity with clear geographical coordinates, and high contrast lighting with noir-ish deep shadows complement the depth of this town's depravity. Some great performances too, even if the characterization of the idiotic townsfolk occasionally comes off as overly simplistic or cartoonish. Pretty breathtaking finale.

Clint Eastwood's Dogville?

Westerns Ranked

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