Movie News & Reviews

'Great Silence' blurs line between good, evil

Tempted as I am to break Western Month to cover the works of thedeparted Patrick Swayze, a man whose films I only just began to love,I am, like the gunslingers of the Wild West, honorbound to see mymission to the very end. This isn't the only way I'm like those men ofyore, but since I promised my editor I wouldn't mention soiled dovesagain for the rest of the year, let's move on.

To 1968's The Great Silence. So what if I already hit updirector Sergio Corbucci to start this thing off? I'm not gonna riskvengeance from the imagination-ghost of Silence just because I talkedabout his creator once before.

Bounty hunter Klaus Kinski is running wild in the snowy Utah hills,killing starving bandits and cashing in on the reward. Powerless tostop Kinski's legal but savage tactics, the bereaved families seekhelp from Jean-Louis Trintignant, a mute hero dedicated to fightingfor justice.

Or so they say, anyway; Trintignant can't exactly say anything forhimself. That's a bold move, making your hero unable to speak. He'llbe irresistible to the ladies, sure (wait, he won't even talkto me? How confident is that?), but it's a lot harder to carry a moviewhen you can't so much as ask which way to the wrongdoer.

That would explain why Corbucci spends so much camera time withKinski, a playful, violent, wide-eyed killer who would shoot you forsport if he weren't already so busy shooting all those other people.He's kind of like the Joker in The Dark Knight, only instead ofterrorizing a city of millions he's content to pass the time blastinga few horse-eating hill-people. Still, he's a whale of a villain, abright bad man who needs to be brought to justice but who you'd kindof hate to see get taken down.

But Corbucci's west isn't some boring ol' world of good vs. evil. Thetownsfolk talk about Trintignant like he's nursing baby birds back tohealth and passing out free ice cream, but he's a killer, too,provoking the men he wants dead into drawing on him and then gunningthem down in "self defense." By circumstance or temperament,everyone's corrupt. Sheriff Frank Wolff might be the only decent manin town, but he's hamstrung by the same laws he's bound to uphold.

That results in a more cohesive story than Corbucci's famousDjango while sacrificing none of the gunplay or bizarre handtrauma. (Seriously, an unreal amount of hands get wrecked up in hismovies.) The Great Silence's knockout ending is as desolate asits snow-drowned mountains.