Tuesday, July 6, 2010

High Plains Drifter (1973)

Clint Eastwood rapes stuff.

There is a surprising amount of variety in the genre that is the western. There are classic westerns, John Ford westerns, Spaghetti Westerns and a fistful of other, less renowned, members of the family. High Plains Drifter is the genesis for one of these subfamilies, a western directed by and staring Clint Eastwood. Eastwood's westerns, generally categorized as revisionist westerns, have a tendency to feel a little biblical or supernatural. While it's not always effective, High Plains Drifter gives a viewer a clear view of Eastwood's thoughts on the genre and it is, generally, a pretty enjoyable viewing experience.

A strange man wanders into town. He shoots some people, rapes some ladies and discovers himself, suddenly, the most and least popular guy in town. The town hires him to protect it from some returning fellows who the local mining company happened to screw. Our stranger, Clint Eastwood of course, exacts bloody revenge on the towns people and the outlaws. The movie also features a midget named Mordecai, some supernatural plot twists and multiple whip fatalities. The film is not Eastwood's directorial debut, but it is his first western. As per usual, he's the lone star here. High Plains Drifter was well liked at the time of it's release and continues to have it's own following, but it seems to fly under the radar of the average moviegoer. 

High Plains Drifter can be viewed as Clint Eastwood's dissertation on what westerns should be. The film is highly influenced by Sergio Leone's style and themes while bringing back unique American elements, like the touch of supernatural and the concepts of greater good. The surprising amount of violence, including the sexual violence, present in High Plains Drifter is pretty shocking. The violence gives a gritty, dangerous feel to the west that definitely feels right. This, coupled with the divine justice elements on the plot are really pleasing. It's also worth noting how different the scenery in the film is. Having a western set, almost entirely against a backdrop of a beautiful lake is strangely appealing to the eye. It's an early clue to expect something different from the film. The whole last twenty minutes of the film is pretty captivating. The problem with all of this is that the first hour of the film is pretty unremarkable. It feels like territory that has already been well walked and, until the movie starts to get more interesting, it's hard to really be engaged with it.

I like westerns. I really like westerns that aren't classics. Maybe I'm just disenchanted with the fable of the American west, but nothing annoys me more than the manifest destiny touting, injun hating, John Ford western. High Plains Drifter is not that kind of movie. While the movie has it's fair share of faults, it stands pretty well on it's own. It's a good choice for fans of Leone's westerns even though it lacks his artistry. It's hard to say if the film belongs on our list, but at least it doesn't suck.


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