Walter Hill’s “Lonely Hero” – Movies and TV series on DTF

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Bruce Willis in a noir action movie about a small town in the middle of the desert, two warring gangs and a tramp with a pair of pistols in a holster.

USA, 1930s, the country is in a time of “dry law”. Tramp John Smith arrives in the tiny town of Jericho near the border. There are almost no residents left in the settlement, but instead – two criminal gangs of Italians and Irish, fighting each other for the right to supply alcohol from Mexico. Smith begins to work first on one side, then on the other, gradually eliminating more and more gangsters.

Walter Hill is one of those artisan directors who has never made masterpieces, but has always worked skillfully in the genre, creating strong characteristic films. He directed “Driver” in 1978, “Warriors” in 79, followed by “48 Hours” and “Red Heat”. And so in the second half of the 90’s Hill suddenly decided to embark on a highly controversial project – another film adaptation of the novels “Bloody Harvest” and “Glass Key” by Dashil Hammett. The two most famous previous adaptations were made by Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone – two great films: “The Bodyguard” and “For a Handful of Dollars”. One was made in Japan, the other in Europe, now it’s time to tell this story in America.

To justify a new variation on a long-studied and rather boring plot, Hill shifts the action to a mafia showdown, changes the genre to a noir action movie with hints of Hong Kong action in the spirit of John Woo, and stars Bruce Willis, whose career was in full swing.

From the very beginning, the audience is accompanied by Smith’s voice-over, sadly telling about his wandering fate. Stopping at a crossroads, he untwists an empty bottle of whiskey to show him the way.

Upon arriving in a Texas town “not to be found on any map,” John is met by a dead horse lying right in the middle of the street, a undertaker preparing another corpse for a funeral, a flat tire, a sales sheriff, and a handful of gangsters ready to gnaw each other’s throats.

Two gangs is one more than expected.

And so the work begins on one side or the other. The protagonist is an ordinary mercenary who will help those who pay more. But gradually he begins to understand how everything is really arranged here, and decides to play by his rules.

Bruce Willis’s name is John Smith, because John Smith is the most banal American name in the world. Sergio Leone, for example, at one time did not give the same character a name at all.

Toshiro Mifune and Clint Eastwood, who previously played the role of a lone wanderer, later became the main characters of the genres: Mifune – a symbol of samurai action, Eastwood – a western. Willis, at that time, was one of the most popular actors in the action of the 90’s, so it is not surprising that Hill chose him for this role.

I decided to dry. Two days without drinking. This is not bad for me.

Bruce is here, fitting in as if poured in, talking in a low hoarse voice to all the villains here, with a pair of Colts in a shoulder holster, pouring whiskey in without stopping – as if he had really moved here from the “black” films of the 1940s. His character is first a cynical and rude mercenary, then a man who suddenly decides to do at least one good deed in his life.

Speaking of “The Lonely Hero”, it is impossible not to mention his, undoubtedly, outstanding visual style. The whole of Jericho and the surrounding desert is flooded with dark orange, and the shots in the film are constantly dissolving into each other, as if slowly melting in this incredibly hot sun. Shadows fall beautifully on faces, light pours through half-closed windows, people in suits die from bullets.

The suffocating air, the endless heat, the ubiquitous sand and the abandoned city of almost no good people – that’s what Hill’s picture is not to blame men.

The only unequivocally positive characters in this story are two exhausted women and a foolish bartender. In addition to them, there is a sales sheriff (Bruce Dern) with a silent assistant, and more, it seems, no one lives here.

When it all started, I just wanted to cut down the money. But somewhere along the way, it all became too personal.

One of Smith’s main opponents is the ruthless killer Hickey (Christopher Walken) with a scar on his face, working for the Irish. He is Thompson with a submachine gun, smiling wickedly and turning his back on his opponent before killing him, the main antagonist here, the local psychopath who poses the greatest threat.

Unlike the heroes of Kurosawa and Leone, Hill has virtually deprived his mercenary of any halo of romance. At first, Smith is no different from the local villains, because the only thing he is interested in is to earn more money, repair the car and get away as far as possible.

The shootings here are like wild Hong Kong militants with crumbling decorations, bodies flying away a few meters away, crazy shooting in Macedonian with both hands. It doesn’t smell like realism here – Hill shot a natural comic, stylish, noir, cruel, but at the same time very poetic.

In addition, the film is full of vivid symbolic images – an abandoned church, which hides John, a burned-out bar, where the decisive meeting takes place, a cross, passed from hand to hand, the undertaker, who kept his eyes on Smith. And the name of the city itself is very telling.

Against the background of two other cult adaptations of Hammett, “The Lonely Hero”, of course, looks secondary, but Hill did not try to surpass either Kurosawa or Leone. He simply rethought the old story, turning it into a sad and extremely atmospheric action movie, which stands out from a number of standard action movies of the 90s.

After all, in fact, it does not matter – whether a samurai wanders the road, a cowboy or a gangster in a hat – the fate of a mercenary who got into a small town and restores order there, always one – to disappear without a trace beyond the horizon, because of which he once -that so suddenly came.

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