Faccia a Faccia (Face to Face)

Monday, 20 June 2011 10:11

“Face To Face” asks what would happen if a pacifistic scholar and a murderous bandit were forced together. Suffering from chronic tuberculosis, Professor Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria Volonté – “A Fistful of Dollars”) is convalescing in sunny Texas when a stagecoach arrives with a deadly prisoner onboard. Soloman ‘Beauregard’ Bennett was leader of the much-feared Wild Gang until it was all but wiped out by the authorities.

Beau (Tomas Milan – “Traffic”, “The Yards”) guns down his guards but takes a bullet in the process. He takes Fletcher hostage, fleeing in the coach. They crash and Fletcher compassionately tends to the incapacitated outlaw. Lost in the wilderness, the professor agrees to take Beau to an old hideout to recover, and what begins as a grudging acquaintance slowly grows into a stronger bond as they learn more about each other.

Face to Face - on DVDRather than returning to normal society, Fletcher opts to help Beau rebuild the Wild Gang. As they spend more and more time in the company of each other, aspects of each man rub off on the other, warping their attitudes and outlooks. Meanwhile, a Pinkerton police spy infiltrates the gang and sets them up for a fall.

Italian director Sergio Sollima has certainly crafted an entertaining and interesting movie, though one cannot help wishing it was a bit grittier and delved more deeply into its fascinating scenario. Modern Westerns such as “The Proposition” and “Unforgiven” have really dug beneath the surface of the genre. By contrast, "Face to Face" feels slightly superficial although it does deal with some weighty issues.

Having survived the first few minutes and then hours of his encounter with Beau, Fletcher has a chance to subvert the trigger-happy, killer instincts of the bandit, getting him to actually think about his actions, starting with not taking the scholar's life on a whim. Equally, the longer Fletcher spends in the Wild Gang's company, the more he discovers buried urges and feelings he never knew he possessed. As he comments to Beau when a gun is placed in his hand for the very first time, he immediately senses the power it represents, and cannot help being excited by it despite also experiencing a certain amount of revulsion.

The two men's character arcs reach a mid-way point where they are very similar, and that is when things get really interesting. Where they end up, and what they become, propels the story to a thrilling denouement.

The film's handling of the meaning of freedom, society and justice produces some interesting talking points. The gang spends most of its time in a commune in the mountains, away from the embryonic cities. Urbanites tar them with the same brush and regard them as undesirable outcasts, whilst in fact many of mountain people are peaceful and law-abiding; they simply prefer to lead their own lives at their own pace, and on their own terms. The authorities' use of morally suspect mercenaries to do their dirty work hardly paints them in the best of lights.

As you would expect from a Western, the cinematography often presents the viewer with stunning vistas (shot in Spain), and the cleaned up DVD print does them more than ample justice. Ennio Morricone's soundtrack is not as catchy as his Clint Eastwood ventures, but the distinctive, mildly discordant theme tune does capture the essence of the story, to my mind illustrating the paths of Fletcher and Beau meeting and passing each other.

Volonté and Milan are very strong and charismatic leads, and they carry the film with ease. They are joined by William Berger ("Keoma") as Charlie Siringo, the undercover agent. Like Fletcher and Beau, there is more to the character of Siringo than initially meet the eye. Nothing is black and white in this movie, and the colour and vitality both on-screen and in the roles and plot makes it well worth seeking out.

The special features included on the disc itself are a little on the light side: there is an okay piece to camera by Sollima (16 minutes) and a couple of trailers. On the plus side there is also an 18-page booklet packed with interesting information about the film and some striking colour photos. The film is present in Italian, with optional English subtitles.

“Face To Face” (1967) is out now, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 107 minutes approx, carries a ‘12’ certificate and retails for £15.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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