A Fistful of Dynamite

A Fistful of Dynamite | Duck, You Sucker! | 1971 | Film Review | Movie Review | SHELF HEROES

Sergio Leone’s often overlooked western set in the heart of the 1913 Mexican revolution. John ‘Sean’ Mallory (James Coburn), an IRA bomber, has fled from the British authorities only to find himself embroiled in another political uprising. He reluctantly gains a travelling companion in Juan (Rod Steiger), a jovial but ruthless Mexican outlaw accompanied by his family of bandits, who tirelessly attempts to convince John to use his remarkable skills with explosives to aid him in robbing the bank of his dreams in Mesa Verde. The two men unwittingly become deeply involved in the revolution and, despite initial suspicions and rivalry, find they share more in common than they might expect.

Incredibly relaxed pacing allows the scorching days and hardened characters to pass before us and become truly absorbed, capturing an amazing sense of time and place – you can feel the sweat and dirt on the back of your neck. There isn’t really a strong central narrative – instead flitting between a few different stories that don’t necessarily meld together – but this is of little consequence as the Mexican wilderness is so immersive. This is achieved with a trademark mix of panoramic landscapes, extreme close ups and fantastically well cast support actors with haggard weather-beaten faces that possess as many stories as the desert. It’s a thing of gritty, sweat-stained beauty that holds the captivating magic of classic Western cinema. Ennio Morricone’s exceptional score does much to capture this mood, and is capable of arousing the sensation of trekking across dusty plains even with your eyes closed.

Juan and John’s relationship is at the heart of ‘Dynamite’ – fantastically well-drawn, utilising an electric chemistry between Steiger and Coburn that brings the film to life and adds as much humour as warmth. As the two hardy outlaws grow closer than they ever would’ve imagined, their friendship becomes hugely poignant and evocative – a nice juxtaposition with the brutal violence and unforgiving landscape they find themselves in. Perhaps more overtly political than Leone’s other work, it’s unflinching in its depiction of the government brutality on the rebels, and is still able to elicit shock. It doesn’t have much to say politically, painting a very white and black picture of events – nevertheless there is still a stomach-churning feeling of injustice that runs through it, more powerful than you may imagine a western to be capable of.

‘Dynamite’ may lack the enduring star appeal of Eastwood or Bronson but it’s no less worthy than Leone’s other work. There is little we haven’t seen in the setting or tone, but he left us so few films that all of them deserve to be cherished. Far more than a western, this is a poetic odyssey about friendship, and alive with a sweaty, ragged majesty.

★★★★☆

[ 1971 — Dir: Sergio Leone — 132 mins — 15 cert — IMDb ]

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