3.10.2011

"When You Have To Shoot, Shoot. Don't Talk."

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966)
Image from pafterb.blogspot.com
You know the symptoms. Someone you know comes up to you and says, "Oh my god, I saw [insert movie] last night, and it was LEGENDARY." So you make a note to put it on your list. But then you come across your pretentious coworker who berates you for never seeing [insert movie] and threatens you to watch it or suffer pain of death. So you tell them you'll see it. And then, just when you casually mention that you've finally downloaded it (legally, of course. Er.), your friend who can mouth all the lines to [insert movie] insists on seeing it with you. Well. By this point, you're just plain fucking sick of hearing of it.

Such is the story of Me Vs. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (1966). I knew it was a classic. I knew it would be extraordinary. I knew it was one of those movies everyone claimed to love, even if just out of principal. I knew it was Tarantino's all time favorite. Despite all that--it did something that took me completely by surprised. It lived up to its hype. Ten times over. I know I should be working by example and using reverse psychology--telling you just what complete crap this movie is so the margin of people who are stubborn two year olds like will actually see it. All I can say is this: I've been there, I've done that, and the petty pride is not worth depriving yourself of this epic masterpiece. And without further ado...The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:

THE GOOD
"I've never seen so many men wasted so badly."
The Character: If you're anything like me, you hear a character defined as "The Good" and you flinch. Instantly, I'm waiting for John Wayne to swagger up, flanked by Captain America wielding his red, white, and blue shield and warm apple pie for Little Timmy. Which just goes to show how much I know about Sergio Leone. The thing that attracts me most to this movie is Leone's bold and unapologetic commentary on human morality. Despite the simplistic titles each character is given, the characters themselves are far from easy to pin down. Clint Eastwood plays "Blondie", aka "The Good", who just so happens to make his living by conning people out of their reward money by pretending to capture wanted criminals only to help them escape after he's got the green in his hand.

Alright. So far, not so good. But, to be fair, he's just about as good as good gets in the wild west. He sneers at criminals, he sees his deals to the end,  and he's honest. He's "the moral one". Ironically enough, it's because he's so "good" that he's actually one of the more unlikable characters in the film. And it has nothing to do with him being a goodie-two-shoes, because he's not. It has to do with the fact that he's the stubbornly moral character stuck in an immoral world, and frankly, we're rooting on the bad guys in this one. In fact, his saving grace for the audience is the fact that he holds such disdain for "crooked" characters, and therefore often comes off as a big dickwad. What it comes down to is a simple blaring contradiction: in order to be "the good guy", he has to be a loner, he can't get emotionally attached to the devious characters he attracts, despite the travels they go through and the brotherhood that they form. Because he's incapable of really bonding with the other characters in the movie, he comes off as cold and even callous--even if we still love him for his warrior-like devotion to his own moral code. Clint Eastwood, of course, blows the role out of the park, with his "blondie" good looks, marred by an unfortunate desert incident, and his cool swagger.

The Movie: As for the movie itself. It's so fucking epic, it's hard to actually pinpoint what to compliment. And when I say epic, I don't mean it in that bro "whoa, that wheely was way epic, dude" way. I mean War and Peace EPIC. It's a long movie, sure, but the journey we go through with these characters--their relationships, their traumas, their brotherhood--it's human. And you care deeply about each and every one of the characters.

Credit where credit is due. Leone knows how to film a movie. It's rare that I'll compliment a movie stylistically like that, but. Each shot was fantastic, and so hyper-stylized it's hard to believe that this wasn't filmed in this decade. Lots of close up eye shots, for all your eye-fetishies. You know who you are.

The music is phenomenal. Ennio Morricone I recognized from countless Tarantino films, which I know is a bit of a backwards way to do it, but. C'est la vie. He has that type of instrumental music that really gets inside you like a good bong hit and invades your blood stream. It quickens the heart, draws you into the center of the action...just listening to it makes me want to jump on a horse and ride eighty miles through the Italian Western desert.


THE BAD
"But you know the pity is, when I'm paid, I always follow my job through. You know that."
The Character: Christoph Waltz, you've just met your match. Never has there been a smoother, more intimidating, and yet somehow sympathetic villain as "Angel Eyes" Sentenza. Just when you thought this movie couldn't get anymore morally ambiguous, Leone calls his villain "Angel Eyes". Be still, my heart. Sentenza is Bad. Fucking. Ass. He spends the first what feels like ten minutes of the movie simply walking into a man's house, sitting down across from him at his kitchen table, and slicing into his food. Never has "two men eating breakfast" been so tense. The best part about Sentenza? He's a near mirror of Blondie. He's gives off the vibe of a man who's just "doing his job". There's nothing inherently evil about Sentenza. He's not pure viciousness, and there's no real evidence that he gets any satisfaction from being sadistic. He just happens to have a job that involves killing people. So he's good at his job, so sue him. He's a dedicated, mean, lean, badass machine. Lee Van Cleef manages to balance the line between a completely terrifying and subtly human perfectly.  

The Movie: So the movie is long. A good three hours long. Suck it up, you ADD jackasses. Take some Ritalin if you have to. It's worth it. I know our generation is used to the good ol' instant gratification slam, bam, thank you, ma'am. However. The weight of the movie lies in the strength of the characters and the emotional journeys they go through. By the end of the movie, I knew them so well I asked Tuco to be the best man at my wedding. It was that kind of relationship.  I know, Leone has some scenes that just seem to be a couple men glaring at each other for about five minutes. But you know what, when it runs alongside Ennio Morricone's score, you really can't complain.

The one scene I will pick a small fight with was when Blondie and Tuco came across a civil war battle and try to disguise themselves as union soldiers. It was the one time I really directly felt the hand of the '60s in the film, a little war commentary seeping in there. It could've come right out Apocalypse Now (1979), honestly (even if Apocalypse Now is some 13 years later. You wanna fight about it?). The thing was, I was there with these characters throughout the whole movie. I didn't mind the length of the film because the action wasn't there simply to fill plot holes--everything that happened to these characters was character driven. If they ended up at a prisoner of war camp, it had less to do with the politics of the time and more to do with the fact that the characters where fucks ups who couldn't tell the Union and Confederacy apart (though, to be fair, desert dust is hell). But everything that happened to the movie came straight from the dynamics of the characters, and not from the writer's "hand of god". Here, I wasn't feeling it so much. We got introduced to Lt. Dan--I mean--"unnamed alcoholic Union Captain", who was supposed to be inspiring and...something. Maybe I'm being dense. Maybe I just didn't get it. But the thing was, it was the only time I felt Blondie and Tuco were just...randomly thrown into a situation. Frankly, I didn't care about the Captain. I just cared about Blondie and Tuco. I get that the scene under the bridge was important for the two characters and definitely a necessary and vital bit to the movie, but it was the whole scene itself that felt a little...out of place to me. But I could just be a picky bastard. Onward.

THE UGLY
"There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: those with the rope around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting."
The Character: You would think that in a movie that has two characters labeled "The Good" and "The Bad", The Ugly would be the least of everyone's concerns. However, The Ugly steals the motherfucking show. Reason 341 why Leone is straight up genius. Eli Wallach plays Tuco, the Mexican bandit who will steal, cheat, and kill to get his way. He's dirty, he's malicious, he's ridiculous, and yet he's the most human character in the entire movie and (if you're me) the character you're really rooting for. In any other movie, he might serve as a bit of "comedic relief" or even the bit part villain. However, we get to know him as a man who's simply always living under the heels of everyone else, and squirms and claws and fights his way to get on top. He's merciless, greedy, repulsive--but there's more than that. There's a distinct sense of loneliness about good old Tuco--he aches for some sort of companionship, someone he can trust and call "brother". Even if, you know. He dragged so-called brother nearly 100 miles under the desert sun until his face was peeling off in chunks. But hakuna matata, right?

In many ways, there is something very "comedic relief"-esque about Tuco. He adds a certain amount of levity to the movie, which is much needed considering "The Good" and "The Bad" are such heavyhanded motherfuckers. Despite this, he's the one character who we really know anything about. He has a past, he has a brother that comes back to haunt him. He has some dramatic highs and lows--between losing his partner in crime, to tormenting him, to regaining him back. He's really the one who seems to have the most at stake when it comes to hunt for the buried gold. He's the one who goes through the most changes--from being the greedy loner to finally reaching out and finding a partnership in Blondie (a trust, we discover, that is not mutual. But then again, Tuco isn't exactly above scamming his own brothers either). And he's the one, at the end, who really gets the last word in all this (quite literally). And so, despite the fact that Angel Eyes and Blondie are such epic, intense characters--Tuco is the real human of the story, the one who somehow manages to balance both the "good" and the "bad".

The Movie: Unless you know Italian, there's a good chance the dubbing is going to bug the crap out of you. You get used to it after a while. But it's a Spaghetti Western, it is what it is. Take it or leave it. And I think they do a pretty fantastic job of getting the voices and mouths spot on, so. You know. You take what you can get. Also, if you can't stand that gritty 60s feel, well. It's what real people look like. Not glossed over with way too many special effects and all that photoshop crap.
Pwn, amigo.
In short...this movie is badass to the extreme. Now excuse me while I go rewatch it another ten times.

9 comments:

  1. Awesome, right on review. This is the grand daddy of badass mother fucking movies. My dad hooked me on it when I was in high school. This film made me love Eastwood and whenever it comes on, hey it stays on the TV til it's over. Screw whoever else is the room. And I own the DVD, too. One of my fave lines is "Every gun makes its own tune."

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  2. @ Melissa Bradley--You are a lucky soul to have this movie pushed on you earlier than I did. Eastwood is a powerhouse in this movie! And to think I just knew him as "that old guy who growls really well". This movie is definitely the grand daddy of badass mother fucking movies, I couldn't have said it better myself. And I loved that line! Really, it's the gift that keeps giving.

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  3. Great review! I'm glad you were able to resist reverse psychology as this one is one of those rare truly "must be seen" films. Hard to believe Eastwood was that great that early on, and Leone was always a genius.

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  4. @ Brent--Thanks! I tried, but it really is a hands down "must see" film. I definitely need to expose myself to more Leone, pronto.

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  5. Yay! I love hearing about people watching this for the first time and loving it - great post on a truly great film!!

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  6. Thanks! I have yet to meet anyone who has anything bad to say about this movie. Clearly, it stands the test of time and then some!

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  7. "There are two kinds of people in this world. Those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig."

    A truly fabulous film, and a great review. The last half an hour is possibly the greatest piece of cinema in history (or close second after Michael Corleone shooting Solozzo and McCluskey).

    Tuco is definitely the best character; the scene where is "buys" a new gun is just brilliant. You're absolutely right that it's Tuco we know most about, I'd never thought of that before.

    I don't think the dubbing is that bad, it's certainly better than Fistful of Dollars, or A Few Dollars More. BTW, if you haven't seen these either then you really should. Neither are as epic as TGTBATU, but still amazing.

    Great review and great blog.

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  8. I agree, this film is really a classic in every sense of the word. You can try to be as badass as it is, but you will fail. Miserably. Second place is a high honor up against Good, Bad, and Ugly.

    I do love me some Tuco. Especially because he was the one character who I didn't expect to love half as much as I did. He comes off a sleezy bit-part, but turns into something epic and all around brilliant.

    And apparently I really have to see those films. I must get on some more Western love. And I agree, the dubbing is actually pretty damn good for what it is, it just takes a couple minutes to ease into.

    Thanks, homie! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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