High Plains Drifter (1973) (R)

"High Plains Drifter" starts off feeling like every other western made. It's dry, dusty, and reaffirms that idea of the overly sexual cowboy—women are incredibly susceptible to his charms.
A unnamed man (Clint Eastwood) rides in the town of Lago where is greeted with suspicious looks an hostility. He goes to the bar to get a bottle of whisky and a beer, and the local men posture around him, trying to scare him...because the west. It's so cliche and it's been done so many times, it's almost impossible not to roll your eyes at "High Plains Drifter's" first few scenes.
Within the opening twenty minutes, the stranger has killed three men of Lago and calmly raped one of the women. Now this takes us back to James Bond and the notion that if the man is masculine enough and sexual enough, he can have his way with any woman and she will enjoy it. They fight at first, but after a few rough kisses, they submit and experience great ecstasy. What sets "High Plains Drifter" apart is that, even though she liked it, we don't forget about the female character or see her as some sort of sex charging station; and she comes back with a vengeance. She tries to kill the stranger for raping her and demands that something be done about him...this is a curious for a movie that "High Plans Drifter" appears to be.
Yet here we start to realize that this is not your average western, nor is it even a western. It's a revenge piece, a cerebral thriller, and one of the most original of the genre to come out of the 70s. I made the comment that I had yet to be impressed with any quasi-modern-western made in the 70s or 80s; but here I have to correct myself. "High Plains Drifter" is in a class all by itself.
As the stranger stays in town, post-murder-and-rape, the townspeople realize that they could use his help. Three outlaws are about the be released from prison and they have a bone to pick with the people from Lago. The town fears that the three will descend back down onto the town with fire and brimstone and they will be left dead and penniless. They ask the stranger for his help, out of fear. He agrees, on the condition that he gets whatever he wants from the town. This means that he can drink as much as he wants, buy as many shoes as he wants, take guns, rearrange the town, etc. etc. For all intents and purposes, he is a god now and this is a power that he abuses with glee.
He monopolizes the entire town and makes the macho men squirm as he stands over the, looking down. He tears down barns, he sets up a picnic, he pains the town red, he forces the guests out of the hotel...all the time, we are spiraling downward.
As the intensity to the picture grows and the ideas start to form under our feet, the depravity, the insanity, and the grotesque beauty of the movie overwhelms the audience.
"High Plains Drifter" is shockingly good.
It's Clint Eastwood's sophomore feature film and it proves his worth. Certainly, it's one of his most showy movies, with the most emotional flashbacks and the most inferno-related imagery; but this is what sets it apart. For being a director known for crafting dramatic situations with minimal special effects, "High Plains Drifter" may be as explosive as Eastwood has gotten and will get.
So it holds a very special place in the director's canon and this is a movie that you should not miss. It's gloriously inventive and horribly fun to watch. Intense, brutal, and wonderfully twisted, it's just a short stop away from being a horror movie, and it would make a wonderful one at that.
Eastwood is a master behind the camera.

Score: ★★★★

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