WowMIKEWow’s review published on Letterboxd:
“All this will be green in six months, the cattle will be fat, the boys...maybe you and me won’t be so tired all the time.”
First time I saw this was almost a decade ago, and I believe I only watched it because I'd heard good things about the remake, and felt like I couldn't watch that before watching the original, for reasons of OCD. Which basically means I set myself up for an Obligation Watch, which is always a deadly mindset with which to go into things. So I think it really speaks to something that I went so quickly from, "Alright, let's get this over with so I can watch what I REALLY wanna watch" to "Huh, for a black-and-white movie this is actually moving at a pretty nice clip" to "Holy shit I am really getting invested in these characters" to "Wait a minute this movie is actually fantastic, what's going on, that new movie suddenly has a LOT to live up to."
Everything about this was so much better than I had initially expected. It's held up super well; I feel very comfortable slotting this right in with the likes of Citizen Kane and Casablanca, at least in terms of old black-and-white pictures that look from the outside like they might be stuffy, baggy old things, but which actually have light, brisk paces to them. And as far as it goes as a morality play, again I expected something much less complex from the setup: good guy good, bad guy bad, bad guy tries to tempt goos guy, good guy stands firm, that sort of thing. And in the broad strokes that is what we get here, but it's much more layered than a simple hero/villain divide. For one thing, the villain actually has a point: it probably would be better for Evans if he gave Wade back to his posse, and pocketed the money. He'd have to sacrifice his morals, but hey, his family would be guaranteed food on the table.
And the direction, man, the direction is so good. I miss classically suspenseful movies like this, where so much milage was gained from people not firing their guns at each other. I also love the way the film shoots its action; all the gunfights are filmed in wide, with a lot of space surrounding the fighters, which I thought gave the scenes a real sense of scope and purposeful remove. The way the film dramatizes the escalating stakes of the finale is also pretty excellent; you're always aware of what the situation is, and how Dan might have to react to is, and a lot of the time you're privy to his thought process through some really smart direction. There's something so diabolical about a movie where the whole thrust is, you have to wait for it to be a specific time in order to be saved.
Overall this is an absolute classic, one which holds up brilliantly to this day. The crisp black-and-white cinematography gives the film real distinction, and the use of shadowy rooms filled with grey men is always well utilized. I love how most of this is a chamber piece character study between two men in a room together. I'm also such a big fan of the opening sequence; when was the last time you saw an opening credits that sung its own theme song?