Contrary to the title’s suggestion, it’s not not a movie about fisting. Five Fingers For Marseilles starts out as a tale of five children who vow to protect their tiny South African village from corrupt officials. Unfortunately, only the very opening focuses on these impulsive, yet well-intentioned kids and their mission. After a bloody confrontation that leaves two corrupt police officers dead, Tau, the protagonist, runs away.
The majority of the film then follows Tau returning to Marseilles as an adult, tired of his life of crime. Following familiar Western tropes, Tau follows the signature ‘man with no name’ arc. He initially tries to avoid conflict with the new forces corrupting his town. Naturally, the plot refuses to comply with his wishes as the fuse of this slow-burn thriller ignites and guides Tau through a sea of characters. Ranging from self-serving, to shady, to downright evil, Tau must convince the titular Five Fingers to, once again, defend the city.
Like all good Westerns, Five Fingers For Marseilles is exceptionally well-shot and filled with gorgeous, mountainous landscapes. The slow pacing of the story allows ample time to soak in the environment. An environment that, like the film itself, simultaneously exudes beauty and a gritty, realistic aesthetic. Scores of grainy twilight and night-time shots accentuate add a layer of context to the beauty of the landscape.
Second only to the cinematography are the memorable characters. Each of them part of Tau’s original Five Fingers, they grow into the roles foreshadowed by their names. “Pockets” became the Mayor of Marseilles. “Pastor,” not surprisingly, became a pastor. And “Cockroach” became the chief of police. While Tau clearly disapproves of what Pockets and Cockroach became, the film’s central antagonist is “The Ghost.” His appearance and cadence feels as though he was directed to resemble Forrest Whitaker playing Jabba the Hut. His looks, line deliveries, and facial expressions are all truly menacing.
Unfortunately, while the tension builds deliberately and dramatically throughout the entire film, the climax left quite a bit to be desired. Rather than igniting a firestorm of violence and mayhem, Five Fingers For Marseilles plays out like a long, slow burning fuse attached to a small set of firecrackers. The final gun battle–it’s a Western, of course there’s a final gun battle–fails to deliver the level of violence and intensity the preceding hour and forty-five minutes seems to be leading up to. Fans tuning in looking for this year’s Bone Tomahawk may come away disappointed. Ultimately, the adult characters are simply less charming and likable than their childhood counterparts. Seeing the kids’ camaraderie build and decline over a ninety minute arc might have been more interesting than what we got.
Overall, however, Five Fingers For Marseilles is still a gritty Western featuring blood, violence, and death. Die-hard western fans looking for a different take on the familiar formula should find a film worthy of appreciation.
Hands Up For ‘Five Fingers For Marseilles’ [Review]
It’s a slow burning thriller filled with memorable characters and beautiful cinematography. While delivering something new to the Western genre, the ending may be too subdued for die-hard genre fans looking for non-stop, gritty violence.