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VOD Review: Dead for a Dollar

September 30, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Dead for a Dollar is a pretty good new Western written and directed by Walter Hill, the veteran filmmaker who has played around in the genre before, while perhaps being best known for action comedies like the 48 Hrs. films and the cult classic rock musical Streets of Fire.

The film opens in New Mexico circa 1897, with the reunion of pragmatic career bounty hunter Max Borlund (Christoph Waltz), and Joe Cribbens (Willem Dafoe), a criminal and gambler who has just finished his jail sentence and has a bone to pick with Borlund for putting him there in the first place.

Max is hired by the wealthy landowner Martin Kidd (Hamish Linklater) to bring back his wife Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), who was taken across the Mexican border by Elijah Jones (Brandon Scott), an African-American deserter from the army. But what is allegedly a kidnapping is actually a consensual relationship between the interracial couple, with Rachel choosing to flee her abusive husband. Max is working with Alonzo Poe (Warren Burke), a former ally of Elijah’s who has chosen a different path for a Black man in the Wild West as a means of survival.

The first stretch of Dead for a Dollar is all about offering slow-burn buildup to the final shootout, with the expected standoffs and tense arguments. If this approach can make the film feel overly dry in places, Hill’s screenplay (from a story co-credited to Hill and Matt Harris) features some well-written dialogue exchanges between its different morally ambiguous characters, while also exploring the racial politics of the American Frontier. It’s brought to the screen through some competent framing by cinematographer Lloyd Ahern II (if the washed out, slightly dusty colour grade at times makes it look a little flat), and a decent Western-influenced musical score by Xander Rodzinski.

The result is a fairly decent stab at making an old Western, nothing more and nothing less. If Dead for a Dollar never fully feels like it builds to being more than the sum of its parts, and the storytelling is a bit needlessly convoluted, Hill’s film is still frequently good enough purely as a genre exercise. It’s carried by fine performances from a cast led by old pros Waltz and Dafoe, who, as expected, are satisfying to watch in their few scenes together, with Brosnahan holding her own in a supporting role.

Dead for a Dollar is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Quiver Distribution.

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