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  Five Fingers for Marseilles Under African SkiesBuy this film here.
Year: 2017
Director: Michael Matthews
Stars: Vuyo Dabula, Zethu Dlomo, Hamilton Dhlamini, Kenneth Nkosi, Mduduzi Mabaso, Aubrey Poolo, Lizwi Vilakazi, Jerry Mofokeng, Warren Masemola, Dean Fourie, Kenneth Fok, Anthony Oseyemi, Brendon Daniels, Garth Breytenbach
Genre: Western, Drama, Thriller
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Twenty years ago, these five friends out in a middle of nowhere town in South Africa would meet up to play their games, but as they grew older those games grew more serious with them. When they were confronted by the sight of two local police officers taking money as part of a corruption racket, the boys decided to fight back and sent missiles in their direction from their vantage point on the village's rooves, but when their female hanger-on went too far and drew blood with a rock, she was packed into the back of the police van and driven off. One of the boys, Tau, gave chase on his bike and managed to crash the vehicle - what happened next would mark him for the rest of his life.

If the prospect of an African Western has you salivating, then Five Fingers to Marseilles should by all rights have been a shoo-in for one of your favourite movies of the twenty-tens. It assuredly looked terrific, all rolling landscapes of harsh beauty, vast, endless skies and a parade of interesting faces filling the screen as they played their power games that had gone beyond childish things and become adult endeavours. So far, so good, right? And there were some favourable reactions to what director Michael Matthews and writer Sean Drummond conjured up; however, you may be more likely to nod reluctantly with the voices of dissent, who observed glaring issues throughout.

It's not as if it was a bad movie, it had a strong premise, that striking scenery, and a cast who were obviously very invested in their roles, it was just that inside this two hour experience a ninety minute (or shorter) piece was struggling to get out. The pace was achingly slow, which was all very well if you were prepared for an art movie, but even the slowest of classic Westerns, such as Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (a blatant influence on this), were careful to apply variety of plot, visual or character, even humour, to their productions, and there was not one laugh to be garnered anywhere in Matthews' efforts, you were practically under instruction to take it deadly seriously.

Building on a "child is the father of the man" theme for its plot, Five Fingers to Marseilles did its best to craft an ominous atmosphere, but in effect this simply made you increasingly impatient for the showdown you knew was coming yet was taking an age to arrive. After the fairly substantial introduction, where Tau shoots dead the two officers after believing the girl is dead when she isn't and is shown the door to prison, we catch up with him as an outlaw seeking the quiet life on return to his hometown. Fat chance of that when there is a turf war underway between the Mayor, his old pal, and the gangster who means to use violence to get his property as he sees fit, and Tau (now played by Vuyo Dabula) is, wouldn't you know it, caught in the middle and in danger of being shot by both sides.

Matthews presented a fine array of distinctive faces, understanding that was a crucial aspect of those classic Spaghetti Westerns of yore, all the better for those closeups of phizogs bathed in perspiration, and there was nothing wrong with the acting. Even the plot, though well-worn, was offered a kick of originality by its setting in Africa, in the apartheid era (those flashbacks) as well as the modern one (for the present day), but the whole shebang tended to simply sit there on the screen with a dismaying inertness. Not helping was the lack of real surprises: when Tau is riddled with bullets, it should be an arresting moment, yet the film had made it clear he was our hero and that it was not about to give up on him just yet. Naturally it ended in a bloodbath, having us muse over whether the victors had enjoyed a pyrrhic victory, but to put it bluntly, this could have done with a heck of a lot more action. Still, the seeds of a promising collection of talents were here, maybe they only needed a better sense of editing. Music by James Matthes.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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