Friday, February 19, 2016

There's something about a paranoid thriller : Dollars (1971)

Dollars [DVD]. Columbua Pictures; produced by M.J. Frankovich; written and directed by Richard Brooks. Columbia Pictures: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment,[2008]. Originally released as a motion picture in 1971. Music, Quincy Jones. Performers: Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Gert Frobe. Summary: A call girl teams up with a security expert to steal money from the safety deposit boxes of three crooks.

style ***1/2
substance ***

“Every big crime’s supposed to say something about the time we live in”

I’d never even heard of Dollars till I caught it the other day on getTV and found it to be something of an undiscovered gem: not quite a masterpiece but a darn good, eminently entertaining yarn, consummately executed by those in front of and behind the camera.

While I admit it’s a stretch to place this in the paranoid thriller category, it has enough similarities as to both style, content, and era to - just barely - merit inclusion in this rather artificially created genre. To wit, there are mysterious, alternatingly menacing and comic, bad guys who drift in and out of the story. One who has a penchant for wearing sunglasses in particular projects an oily malevolence.

Dollars has a Euro style, you-are-there feel to it, a certain urban grittiness, if you like, punctuated by the mod Quincy Jones score which is complemented by tunes sung by Little Richard and Roberta Flack. It’s all a jangly, cinema-verité style, to be sure, which may not be to all tastes but impossible to ignore.

The film - a sort of  synthesis of Oceans 11, Day of the Jackal, and a James Bond flick - is very much of its time, but also prescient, by several decades, in its cheeky sendup of Big Money, the black market, and American economic imperialism (it was set and filmed in a most unappetizing Hamburg, the same city that provided the backdrop for the much more recent, and superior, A Most Wanted Man, with which it has certain similarities).

Writer-director Richard Brooks is in top form and keeps things moving forward with a lively but steady hand. Our nominal stars Beatty and Hawn have great chemistry but the quirky supporting cast which features familiar faces but not a lot of familiar names is if anything even more delicious. We even have Mr. Goldfinger himself Gert Fröbe, who plays a well-intended but rather slow witted bank executive. My only criticism of the film is the edge-of-the-ledge chase finale, which, albeit skillfully done, goes on a bit too long.

Time has been kind to Dollars:  while some of its atmospherics show signs of age, its message and basic truths are right on the money even today.

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