This Dirty Black Bag. Available now on AMC+.
A lot of stuff from the 1960s—hippie communes, Tab, bubble-gum music—hasn’t aged particularly well. Spaghetti Westerns is now a part of that long list. It was an Italian director Sergio Leone’s favorite leading man and a novel breed of horse operas.
When they burst on the scene in 1964, the Spaghetti Westerns revivified a dying American film genre with their lone, laconic gunslingers; hair-trigger violence; and whiplash editing that bounced from spectacular location photography (no dreary, weary old backlots) to extreme close-ups of not-necessarily-very-pretty actors.
But watch Spaghetti Westerns today—TCM runs them constantly—and they seem mostly witless (Leone and many of his imitators couldn’t write in English), badly dubbed and thinly plotted. It’s not difficult to notice the editing style that they created. It seems that their indifferent cynicism is more of an attribute than a feature.
This is all to say that The Dirty Black BagThe new Spaghetti Western, available on streaming site AMC+ is an anachronistic bore. It is true that Morocco, Spain and Italy have beautiful terrains similar to the American West. Douglas Booth, Dominic Cooper, and Douglas Booth are both menacing. Especially if they carry a bloody axe and the body of a 14-year-old. What’s the point? To make up for the rambling storyline and boring dialogue, you need to have more. Even if it is punctuated with the odd disembowelment or listless moping about in the tumbleweeds, this does not constitute a plot-driver.
Written and directed in Italy by Mauro Agoni. The Dirty Black Bag exhibits faithful adherence to the Spaghetti Western playbook. (In some case, shot by shot; a scene of a bored gunfighter trapping a fly inside the barrel of his revolver is lifted—excuse me, “homaged”—right out of Leone’s 1968 One Time in the West) Aragoni sets a bunch of grim-faced, itchy-trigger-fingered characters wandering in seemingly unrelated directions, then stands back when they converge and the blood splatters.
Much of the action revolves around Greenvale’s once-thriving town. There, the mine of gold ore which brought wealth has dried up and an unending five-year drought has decimated the stability of all farms. Arthur McCoy is Cooper’s late-often-played portrayal of the vagrant Greenvale. He has all the power in this vacant and untamed town. Preacher(), who is curiously indifferent about crimes against his constituents. When a farmer complains his plowhorses were stolen by the local bad boys, the sheriff tells him to sell it and get on with his life.
Sheriff McCoy however It is concerned about a bounty hunter passing through his jurisdiction, the grizzled and grisly Red Bill (Booth, of The Pillars of the EarthHe is a fast man, with both a gun as well as a hatchet. This is where he decapitates his target and brings in the heads for his rewards. Red Bill, a practical thinker, notes that a head is less weight than a body as he places the heads into the titular black dirty bag. Red Bill’s fury at Red Bill goes unanswered. Could it be due to those three large, shiny scars that run down his back?
Steve (Christian Cooke) is the farmer whose missing plowhorses don’t matter to Sheriff McCoy. Magic City(Brian Joseph), who knows that God is calling him to continue his farming activities near Greenvale in spite of the 5-year drought. His none-too-scrupulous opponents in this undertaking are the extortionate land baron Mr. Thompson (British TV star Paterson Joseph), who is convinced gold still lies beneath the town, and the whore-with-a-heart-of-wooden-nickels Eve (Niv Sultan, TehranSteve, who believes that if Steve were to leave his wife (and the farm) that their burnt out romance would be revived.
Butler (Aidan Gillen), the big surprise in all of this, is Game of Thrones“,” a gentle-mannered goat farmer, who conceals his religious extremism behind a mild exterior. Butler relays the Gospel just as Hannibal Lecter would have preached it. He advises potential parishioners that “This is Hell and we are demons”.
All this sounds a lot more intriguing than it really is. It takes far too much time for the motives and plans of characters to become apparent. And, often, the characters are seen from distant angles or underlit, which is often the case, to help you remember that there are dark activities going on. I’d guess that the show’s scripts contain a lot of descriptive notes that read only, “GUY savagely kills OTHER GUY.”
It seems like only professional sadists or headhunters can keep their long-term interest in this storyline, which is often repetitive and nearly impossible to follow. This Dirty Black Bag. These are significant Nielsen demographics. It was Farmer Steve’s Theology that I found more interesting than the question of who was killing whom. When asked what makes him believe that God watches over the sun-baked and corpse-strewn Greenvale he replied, “God is everywhere suffering is.” Steve, what is the cause?