Face to Face (1967) DVD review
|REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS|
An aptly-timed DVD re-release worth checking out ...
Produced by Sergio Leone’s long-term partner, Alberto Grimaldi, and complete with a score by the iconic Ennio Morricone, Face to Face (aka Faccia a Faccia) is an oft-forgotten spaghetti western from Italian director Sergio Sollima, famous for The Big Gundown (1966).
The film focuses on two protagonists; a history professor, Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria Volonté), and an outlaw, Solomon ‘Beauregard’ Bennett (Thomas Milian). Retiring due to ill health, Fletcher moves to Texas but through an act of kindness becomes entangled with an injured Bennett on the run from the law. Lying low, the health of the men improves, and each becomes fascinated by the contrasting persona of the other. Following a shoot-out, Fletcher is allowed to follow Bennett as he regroups with the 'Wild Gang,’ slowly ingratiating himself with the criminal community.
While Fletcher connects with his more sinister and bestial emotions, Bennett undergoes a crisis of conscious and re-evaluates his life; something that threatens to be cut short when an agent of the Pinkertons (William Berger), the feared detectives, is discovered within their midst, a vigilante force is being formed to combat the outlaw gang, and Fletcher steps up to challenge Bennett’s position as leader.
Face to Face is a refreshingly complex and character-driven western that alludes to the rise of fascism in Spain and Italy, primarily through Fletcher’s manipulation of his intelligence to win support from the 'Wild Gang’ and the ruthlessness he exerts in the pursuit of power and control. However, the allegorical allusions do not dominate the central plot of the contrasts and connections formed between two seemingly antithetical personalities. The development of the narrative is generally well-handled, although at times it verges on being slightly confusing as numerous characters are introduced and exit quickly. To an extent it feels that Sollima is trying to accomplish too much; reaching beyond his budget and running time. As such, the film never reaches the heights of Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy (1964, 1965, 1966) or Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) in presenting character relationships or exceptional visuals and set pieces. It is nonetheless competently composed, edited and the cinematography is often great, with numerous changes in location – including towns, forests and deserts – providing an enjoyable progression of visuals. The numerous action sequences are confidently staged, if somewhat lacking in genuine excitement or spectacle, and the moral (rather than explosive) climax is a satisfying resolution.
Ennio Morricone’s score is not one of his finest, but provides tension and excitement when needed and places the film firmly in the era of the classic spaghetti westerns. The film is only presented with an Italian soundtrack and English subtitles, despite being set in America, although this does not detract from enjoying the performances or the frequently strong script, also written by Sollima.
Milian (despite sporting a hair-cut that would challenge Javier Bardem’s in No Country For Old Men as worst-in-film-history) gives an excellent performance as the begrudgingly likable Bennett. The standout performance, however, comes from Volonté – known to most Western fans as the antagonist to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name in both A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For A Few Dollars More (1965). He brilliantly encapsulates his character’s descent from respected history scholar to violent and ruthless criminal mastermind. The rest of the cast generally provide strong support, especially Berger as history’s Charlie Siringo. However, the film is greatly lacking in three-dimensional female characters; in particular Jolanda Modio’s Maria, who is severely underwritten and whose actions following a rape – which prove to be a catalyst for Fletcher’s change – seem totally unbelievable.
The DVD has few Special Features, but includes Theatrical Trailers and a (subtitled) interview with the elderly Sergio Sollima, which is mildly interesting. The release also features a booklet containing an essay by spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes.
An interesting story and solid, if not exceptional, filmmaking makes this an enjoyable western, receiving an aptly-timed release following the success of the recent readaptation of True Grit (2010). Personally, I believe this film would make an excellent source for a modern remake, as although a fine film it is not without its flaws. Understandably shadowed by Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy and the still-mesmerising Once Upon A Time in the West, Face to Face is nonetheless worth investing time in.
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