This may be the strangest “western” you have ever seen. It doesn’t take place in the American West, or in Sergio Leone territory, but in an ultra-rural part of the eastern cape of South Africa, first during Apartheid and then afterward. The familiar hallmarks of good against evil and the ultimate shootout are in place in the screenplay by Sean Drummond, and director Michael Matthews has emphasized the tensions and the locale, abetted by a cast that fits right into the tone of the projected conflict.
The story begins with an extended prologue in which five black youngsters living in Marseilles bond as “Five Fingers” against abuse by the local police. They barely know what they are up against but are motivated by their youthful idealism. One of the group, Tau, played at that point by Toka Mtabane, winds up killing two cops in a critical early confrontation.
The film soon cuts to 20 years later, with Apartheid having been shattered, and Tau, now portrayed by Vuyo Dadbula, who, after fleeing and becoming an outlaw and robber, has emerged from a 20-year prison sentence. He wants no more trouble, and hopes to resume friendships and settle into a quiet life. But all has changed, with his former pals in different positions in the community, and a few even part of the new corruption that has set in. How will he react and what will the future be for him, for the others and for the community?
The film builds very slowly from there, with lots of posturing, and the situation sometimes can get confusing for the viewer. One may long for the plot to be speeded up to get to the nitty-gritty. But lots of time is taken to show what has happened to the individuals from the past and the alignments that have occurred.
Violence flares in different ways, and Tau eventually must decide whether he wants to lead a new battle against corruption and exploitation. To the bad guys he is the villain who must be eliminated. Ultimately a new “Five Fingers” group is formed to fight for justice. We await the big gunfight that must settle matters in this locale just as in the parade of traditional westerns. And yes, there is a woman involved, and also her son who is itching to prove his manhood.
In a sense the film is a comment on corruption that has gone on under black leadership after apartheid was overturned. But mainly, the filmmakers seem to have attempted to make a movie that is their version of films they may have enjoyed as buffs. To some extent they have succeeded, but there are too many moments that seem labored and make one feel that the point has already been made and there is need for getting on with the saga more quickly. However, there is one thing on which there can be agreement—this “western” is absolutely different as a result of its unusual setting. An Uncork’d Entertainment release. Reviewed September 7, 2018.