Five Fingers for Marseilles is One of The Best Westerns Since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (Review)

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Five Fingers for Marseilles is a South-African Spaghetti Western from Stage 5 Films and director Michael Matthews. Starring Vuyo Dabula, Warren Masemola, Zethu Dlomo, Lizwi Vilakazi, Kenneth Nkosi, Hamilton Dhlamini and Jerry Mofokeng. The film made it’s TIFF debut in September 2018 and it will hit VOD at the end of October. Here is my review:

Five Fingers for Marseilles - poster

A member of the Five Fingers returns to colonial Marseilles after fleeing police aggression two decades before, and finds the town under a new threat.


I love a good western. I wasn’t aware that you could make a modern day western in South Africa however — until I saw Five Fingers for Marseilles. Director Michael Matthews and writer Sean Drummond have crafted an ingenious and gut-wrenching tale of growing up, growing apart and facing your demons head-on. The movie begins with a group of young children living in the small town of Marseilles in South Africa playing a game of what I can only describe as a Mexican standoff (though I think South Africa now owns the title) so let’s call it a South African stand-off, where each kid fires a slingshot at their pal to see who gets hit and who doesn’t. It’s a funny albeit cruel game that really sets the tone of what’s to come later when we see these kids all grown up. Something truly awful happens early in the film and Tau (Vuyo Dabula) leaves his friends and town, eventually joining a badass gang to live a horrible life of crime.

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Vuyo Dabula is one helluva performer and I would LOVE to see him get larger leading roles in the future — because that man is a star. Cast him in any superhero role you can Marvel Studios – he will crush it. After realising that being a bandit isn’t really the life for him, Tau returns to Marseilles after 15 years to see his former home dominated by a corrupt Mayor, a terrible police force and even worse – psychotic gangs doing whatever the hell they want. The build-up and emotional stakes are so high and palpable during Tau’s return to Marseilles that it really makes the final 20 minutes of chaotic gunfire even more impactful because director Michael Matthews lets the film breathe and unfold at a grim and perfect slower pace. Because of this pacing, we get spend extra time with an array of fascinating supporting characters. The villains were captivating, Tau’s gang bros were amazing, everybody was intriguing to the max, making for a tremendously deep cinematic experience because I truly became immersed into this world and I only wanted to learn more about these characters.

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The gunshot blasts all looked disturbingly realistic and the action never felt over-the-top or forced. You won’t find any slo-motion or fancy cartwheel kills in Five Fingers for Marseilles but you will be immersed in the chaos and you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time someone pulls out their gun. There are so many damn showdowns in this movie that I felt like I was witnessing the rebirth of a genre that hasn’t been this exciting and well executed since Sergio Leone or Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. It’s easy to proclaim Matthews’ film a spaghetti western, because although it most definitely is, there’s also some very dramatic and interesting undertones going on here with Drummond’s complex and unpredictable script. I really, REALLY just wanted Tau’s old childhood friends to welcome him back with open arms and hell — even team up for the insane final battle, but Five Fingers for Marseilles doesn’t fire for the usual tropes here. The film is so unpredictable and unique that I was never sure what would happen next. The ending was one of the most poetic and breathtakingly beautiful scenes of the year and I’ve seen some incredible and progressive flicks in 2018.

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Five Fingers for Marseilles is one of the best foreign films I’ve seen in years and maybe the greatest since Pany’s Labyrinth. The performances were all astounding and even though the cast is made up of people I didn’t recognise at first, each and every single of them delivered something so special and real that it would be a crime to not see these actors and actresses in more mainstream movies down the road. If I had any sort of criticism, it would maybe be that the film feels a little too long in the third act, but the actions that occur here really do build to a glorious and shocking conclusion that I couldn’t have predicted in a million years. If you thought Reservoir Dogs had a disturbing ending, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet folks.

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