Set not in the well known French coastal town but a rundown railway stopover in South Africa, FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES brings the traditions of the Western to the present day. It’s a film that has more on its mind than just six guns and shootouts, however. Writer Sean Drummond and director Michael Matthews have created a story with as much to say about power and corruption as it does about action-movie heroics.
The film begins near the end of Apartheid. A group of young teens, The Five Fingers, is more than happy to harass the government agents in any way they can. But things go badly wrong resulting in the death of several policemen. The group’s leader Tau is forced to flee and the rest try to carry on the fight.
Now, years later Tau (Vuyo Dabula) is returning home after years of banditry and a spell in prison. Things have changed. Apartheid has ended and two of his old friends Bongani (Kenneth Nkosi DISTRICT 9) and Luyunda (Mduduzi Mabaso) are the mayor and chief of police. They’re also as corrupt as the whites they replaced.
The other two members of the group Unathi (Aubrey Poolo) is a clergyman and Lerato (Zethu Dlomo BLACK SAILS) runs a bar with her father. Tau group wants to turn his back on crime and violence but when the town finds itself caught between its corrupt leaders and an outlaw gang led by Sepoko (Hamilton Dhlamini) he must strap his guns on again.
With its grim, poverty stricken setting and brutally corrupt authority figures FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES takes its cues from Spaghetti Westerns much more so than Hollywood. This is the West of Franco Nero and Tony Anthony, not John Wayne. A place where yesterday’s heroes are today’s villains. And today’s hero is fresh out of jail.
The film also has the brutal violence of the Italian Westerns. The bloodshed isn’t as frequent but it isn’t sanitized either. It has an impact and punctuates the film’s story. The death of the police setting the story in motion. It’s a shot of blood dripping from Tau’s hands after he’s forced to fight again that marks the film’s turning point. And like any good Western a final shootout the resolve it all.
Except, as the film makes clear, nothing is really resolved. Nor will it be until the society changes, until then it’s just a matter of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES will keep you entertained but it will also leave you with plenty to think about.
FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES opens September 7 -across the US via Uncork’d Entertainment.