Faccia a faccia
(note from J.D. - this review was originally written some time in 2007. I watched the film again recently, and went back and revised the review with some more thoughts.)
Face to Face's director, Sergio Sollima was also the director of the excellent The Big Gundown, and its sequel, Run Man Run. The film stars Spag Western regulars Tomas Milian (Companeros, The Big Gundown, and many others) and Gian Maria Volonte (Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, A Bullet for the General). Volonte stars as Brad Fletcher, a Boston-based history professor with lung problems who moves to Texas for a lifestyle change as well as a warmer climate. While there, he runs into a wounded bandit named Beuregard Bennett, played by Milian, who kidnaps him. Fletcher helps Bennett recover, and eventually becomes interested in the outlaw life. The two eventually do a ‘moral switch’ of sorts, with Bennett becoming more moral and conscious and Fletcher transformed into a greedy, ruthless bandit. This is all complicated even more by the appearance of an undercover pinkerton detective named Siringo, played by genre regular William Berger.
This one has a reputation of being one of the better non-Leone westerns, and I can see why. I liked this film on its first watching two years ago. After watching it again a few nights ago, I kept saying to myself, "What an incredible movie!" The writing and acting were much better than most of what is usually seen in the genre. Volonte, in particular, did a fantastic, nuanced job as Fletcher, a total 360 from his over-the-top acting in other spag westerns. Milian was good too, keeping his acting within the realm of believability, not jumping into the over-the-top histronics he is sometimes known to do. The dialogue, in particular, was uncharacteristically eloquent and poetic in many parts of this filmgiving it a substance and depth that is sorely lacking in many of the genre's films. We see it early on, as Fletcher plays the gawky straight man who’s never fired a gun, and he often tries to get Bennett to listen to his head instead of his heart. As the film goes on, we see the roles start to reverse, as Fletcher finally starts to feel the joy de vivre of being an outlaw that was missing in his life previously, and Bennett starts to have a newfound sense of decency in him. It had a really good ending, as well. You don't usually see this kind of character development in the genre, which is one of the things that made this film so appealing.
The crew of this had a bunch of genre regulars on board, such as Carlo Simi, Alberto Grimaldi, and Sergio Donati, all people who have worked on the better films of the genre. in additon to Volonte, Milian, and Berger, we also see the familiar faces of José Torres, Aldo Sambrell, and Nello Pazzafini. Ennio Morricone’s score for this one is a powerful one, and often at times reminded me of his themes from ‘Death Rides a Horse’. There was some excellent cinematography, as well. I loved how this particular scene at the end was framed:
I have only one quibble with the film. Volonte's character's morality shifts rather suddenly, in a scene where he, out of the blue, rapes the girlfriend of one of Bennet's gang members, and even more implausibly, she falls in love with him. The whole "woman falling in love with her rapist" thing, which we've seen in other films as well, somewhat cheapens Brad's moral change, as opposed to the way Bennet's is shown to us, where he shows compassion to an innocent child shot in a crossfire. It's not a film-killer by any stretch of the imagination, it's just that Brad's change could have been presented in a more dramatic (and plausible) way.
All in all, this was an excellent film, with an original plot with some substance to it, a rather violent morality play, if you will. I would have liked to have heard the Italian track, for the English actor who overdubbed Volonte didn’t do justice to his character (you could see it). Other than that, if you can find this one, I’d highy recommend picking it up. As of this writing, there are several European releases, but the only Region 1 release is the grey market release by Cultcine, which is a combination of the video of the French master, and the audio from a UK VHS and the SPO release (overall, this looks and sounds better than the SPO release). Whatever version you see, I highly recommend you see this film.