Review Date: 12/4/16
Alternate Title: A Fistful Of Dynamite
Director: Sergio Leone
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn
The film opens with a Mexican peasant pissing on an ant hill. It's a crude and nasty act that perfectly sets the stage for this grim and depressing tale. Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) is a Mexican bandit whose chance meeting with IRA terrorist John Mallory (James Coburn) gets him tangled up in the Mexican Revolution. Mallory is an explosives expert who wants to lend his talents to the revolutionary cause, while Miranda just wants to rob banks. After conning and framing each other several times, they eventually become friends and decide to escape to America. Unfortunately, the relentless Mexican army is hot on their heels, which leads to a violent (and explosive) confrontation in the desert.
Typical of Sergio Leone's work, it's gritty, dirty, and lawless, and spends most of its time developing the characters of Juan and John, and exploring their complicated relationship. They are both sympathetic characters, but they're also broken and not particularly likable. Then again, none of the characters in the film are likable, and the film goes to great lengths to illustrate the ugliness of society and the great injustices we heap on each other. The pacing is extremely slow and ponderous, and the film is over two and a half hours long. It gets increasingly weighed down by the politics and consequences of revolution in the second half, and scenes of mass executions are shocking, brutal, and disturbingly grim. The action scenes are pretty exciting and feature some absolutely fantastic explosions. This was a time when filmmakers would blow stuff up for real, and the results are awe-inspiring. Only the climactic train sequence falters, as it looks like it was shot at a different aspect ratio and stretched to fill the frame.
It's a great looking big budget film, with excellent cinematography and gorgeous scenery. Rod Steiger gives an outstanding and extremely compelling performance as Miranda, and devours every scene that he's in. James Coburn is entertaining to watch, but his Irish accent is unconvincing and his delivery is a bit flat. Ennio Morricone's music score is worth noting because it's so quirky, romantic, and upbeat, and doesn't match the tone of the film at all (unless Leone intended the film to be a dark comedy). There are definitely comedic elements in the film, but overall it's just a sad look at the lives of the helpless and the hopeless.