LIDO, Venice, Italy — While the Western has often been declared ‘dead’ it continually resurfaces as evidenced by “Dead for a Dollar,” Walter Hill’s lean, mean classical Western opening Friday.
Hill’s credits include the teen gang war classic “The Warriors,” the Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte “48 HRS” buddy cop franchise and “Deadwood” and “Broken Trail” on TV. At 80 he’s back with a Western starring Christophe Waltz as the bounty hunter Max Borlund and Willem Dafoe as Joe Cribbens, his sociopathic prey.
Rachel Brosnahan is the miserable wife of a Mexican tycoon who is being held hostage for $10,000 ransom by Black Army deserter Elijah Jones (Brandon Scott). That’s a ruse. Actually, they’re lovers trying to escape her horrible husband and Borlund’s been hired to bring her back.
Hill’s Westerns range from the warrior Geronimo to Wild Bill Hickock and the post-Civil War outlaw Jesse James and his gang. Asked why this decades-long interest, “I’m fond of the period,” he said at the film’s Venice Film Festival world premiere.
“I like making the films. I like working with the cast and the horses. The country is beautiful, and I think there’s a nostalgia for a part of American history we all share. There is a mythopoetic idea about the Western. Fundamentally it goes down to that.”
Hill’s “Dead,” while in many ways classical, is far from those ’50s-era oaters.
“I thought it should have some modern relevance. It was an attempt that’s clearly different than the traditional approach. We took some chances because there is a difference between those Westerns and our attitudes about our positions in society and racial attitudes today.
“It’s the same kind of movie that tries to valorize the Western tradition but I didn’t want to make a film that was frozen in amber, like the 1950s or the 1930s.”
“I had a really fantastic conversation with Walter when he first told me about his desire to push at some of the boundaries of the traditional Western and add something while respecting its history,” Brosnahan said.
“Great stories start with great characters and for me this character felt like something I haven’t seen before.”
“I worked with Walter almost 40 years ago on ‘Streets of Fire,’ my first studio film,” Dafoe noted. “Walter got me started. When he said he wanted to do a Western — all his movies are Westerns — it was simple to say yes. And 40 years later, he’s basically the same guy.”
“Dead for a Dollar” streams Friday.