Welcome to Monsoon-a-day
Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.
Due to our predilection for violence and tales of amoral manly men doing heroic shit–coupled with the fact that our country isn’t old enough to have any folklore of its own, America has long adopted the western as it’s official mythology. Since the rest of the world stopped believing in dragons and gods and all that fun shit hundreds of years before Columbus would set foot on the New World, America had to improvise if it wanted a piece of that fat fable cake.
But unfortunately, when it comes to improvisation, America is…bad. We’re not good at it. We’re the the shit that gets left on the cutting room floor after Robin Williams does a line of coke and starts riffing about nonsense for twenty minutes. We’re the equivalent of a agonizing “and then” improv session that lasts two hours after the party has ended.
Instead of creating melodramatic gods or cool as shit monsters, we just pointed to the first thing we saw (ourselves) and proclaimed that to be our new legends. We may not be creative but we’re a nation “discovered” and founded by thieves. That’s why we have such an attraction to mythologizing outlaws and anti-heroes: It’s in our blood.
We traded Zeus and Hercules for Jesse James and Billy the Kid and then we eventually traded them in for John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Our love of the old West inevitably evolved past real life and into film. Which is why the western genre has been a mainstay in film since the very beginning; Its popularity waxes and wanes but it has never completely died.
And that’s due in large part to the fact that it’s malleable. It’s a genre that can accommodate both The Wild Bunch and Blazing Saddles. It can be revisionist or contemporary, action packed or …..whatever the fuck El Topo is.
And although the western is America’s official mythology (we claimed it), it’s so flexible, that it doesn’t even need to be set in America to be considered a western.
Spaghetti Westerns made Eastwood a star and South Korea produced one of the most entertaining films of the last decade in The Good The Bad and the Weird and with the release of Five Fingers for Marseilles, South Africa is finally throwing their hat into the ring.
Set right before apartheid, Five Fingers for Marseilles is about a gang of five teenage boys (and one girl. Yes, the math is wonky) who have banded together to fight police oppression. After a heated interaction with the police turns deadly, Tau–the younger brother of the leader of the Five Fingers and the one who instigated and ultimately kills both police officers–decides to run away from the gang, and his home.
Twenty years later, Tau has transitioned from a meek little boy into the ‘Lion’, a fresh-out-of-prison professional highwayman that longs to go back home but once he does, he’ll find that everything has gotten exponentially worse since he left. Will Tau be able to fix the town and the broken Fingers (pun not intended) or will the ghosts of the past consume him whole?
Pick any random western and you’ll have the exact same premise: a stranger walks into town, gets caught up in the towns bullshit and decides enough is enough. With revenge usually being the inciting incident.
And that’s where Five Fingers for Marseilles stumbles. The film only has enough plot to accommodate the beginning (with the younger Five Fingers) or the middle and end, with the older Tau. The film could’ve worked if it was about a group of teenagers being destroyed by a single act of violence or if it was about a stranger saving a town from itself. It tries to do both but doesn’t dedicate enough time to the beginning for the rest of the film to have any emotional weight.
Apparently, Tau killing those two police officers ruined the lives of the remaining Five Fingers (including the girl) but since the film doesn’t show us how, we (as in, the audience), is left wondering how. How did the deaths of those two police officers turn one of them into a corrupt mayor or an equally corrupt police chief? The same applies to the girl, who’s barely keeping it together and Tau’s older brother, who’s unceremoniously killed off-screen.
The only one that turned out ok was the priest but the film couldn’t be bothered to show him for more than a couple of minutes, so he barely registers as a character.
The film knows what to pull from (this film recycles so many western tropes and cliches, I’m surprised it wasn’t produced by the EPA) but has no idea what to do with it all. It has all the pieces but just can’t figure out how they all work together.
The film’s only saving grace is its villain: Sepoko the ghost. He talks like he eats gravel and looks like a melted rapper. His backstory is so great, I’m angry it’s wasted in this film. Check this shit out: His mother was struck by lightning while giving birth, forcing the newborn Sepoko to pull himself out of her charred corpse.
That shit is awesome and actor Hamilton Dlamini sells every line. He may be wasted like everything else in this film but he’s at least entertaining while he’s on screen.
In summation, Five Fingers for Marseilles Is the cinematic equivalent of eating the strawberries, chocolates and whipped cream you bought for the sexy times by yourself because you were too inexperienced to know what to do with them*
*yes, that’s a true story.