Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Directed by Sam Peckinpah and screenplay by Peckinpah and Gordon Dawson from a story by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is the story of an ex-army officer who joins in a quest to find the head of a dead man for a bounty where he encounters all sorts of trouble. Though it is set in a contemporary setting, the film is a Western of sorts where a man deals with many others to collect the bounty for a crime lord who wants the head of this dead man. Starring Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Kris Kristofferson, and Emilio Fernandez. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is an absolutely violent and rapturous film from Sam Peckinpah.

When a crime lord learns about his daughter has been impregnated by a man named Alfredo Garcia, he puts a bounty on the man’s head where a group of criminals get a former American army officer to do the job unaware that the reward is a million dollars. It’s a film where a man knows who Garcia is as he’s been tasked to do a deed where he’ll be paid handsomely as he brings along his prostitute girlfriend who also knows Garcia where the two go on a road trip through Mexico. Yet, they would also encounter bounty hunters and all sorts of people who either know about the bounty or those that just want to cause trouble.

The film’s screenplay isn’t about this trip that Bennie (Warren Oates) has to make with Elita (Isela Vega) but also the chance for a good life with the money he’s to be given. Still, Bennie has to endure all sorts of things as he’s seen a lot of good and bad things in his life where he wants something new and different which is among the reasons why he took the job. While trekking through Mexico where he would encounter bikers, strange men, and all sorts of people. He wonders why is people interested in Garcia who is already dead and why the need for his head? Especially in the film’s second half where he would retrieve the head despite many complications but also a trail of bodies that include some innocent people. It plays into a man being caught in the middle of a quest where he eventually finds out why the need for the head of a dead man.

Sam Peckinpah’s direction is definitely intense in terms of the level of violence and suspense that plays out into the film. Especially as it opens very serenely where a young pregnant woman looks out at the river of her family villa until her father known as El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez) demands to know who the father of the child is. It plays into this air of suspense where many men from different parts of Mexico along with some American and European criminals who all go around Mexico to find anyone who knows Alfredo Garcia. All of this happens in the first 10-15 minutes of the film as it establishes what is going on where a couple of Americans meet Bennie at a bar he runs where he’s playing piano as they ask him about Garcia. Peckinpah’s approach to close-ups and medium shot help play into the intimacy that occurs including Bennie’s relationship with Elita where it’s playful at times but also a bit one-sided considering that Elita sleeps with other men much to Bennie’s chagrin. By the time the film moves into the Mexican countryside where Peckinpah takes great advantage of the desert locations with its wide and medium shots. He also knows how to build up moments of suspense such as an encounter that Bennie and Elita would have with a couple of bikers that would end violently.

It would set the tone for things to come where Peckinpah does infuse elements of style into the way he approaches the violence where some of it is quite gruesome. Especially in the third act as it involves shootouts and such where Bennie is forced to come to terms with what he’s doing as well as why Garcia’s head means so much to this crime lord in the middle of Latin America. It all plays into Bennie being someone of the old ways where it’s the new world that is coming into play where the new world order doesn’t care how many lives are worth for the head of one man but for Bennie. These lives actually matter as it shows that money can’t buy everything. Overall, Peckinpah creates a riveting yet wild film about a man going on a trip to retrieve a dead man’s head.

Cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr. does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of grainy film stock to play up the brooding tone of the film as well as the griminess of the locations in Mexico with its approach to natural lights for its daytime/nighttime exterior scenes. Editors Dennis Dolan, Sergio Ortega, and Robbe Roberts do brilliant work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump-cuts, slow-motion cuts, and other rhythmic cuts to play into the action as well as some of the dark and violent moments of the film. Art director Agustin Ituarte does nice work with the set design from the look of a hotel suite where Bennie is given the job to the home of El Jefe.

Sound editor Michael Colgan does superb work with the sound from the usage of sound effects in the shootouts to the raucous atmosphere in the bars and places the characters go to. The film’s music by Jerry Fielding is amazing for its mixture of traditional Mexican folk music with bits of orchestral flourishes that play into the world of Mexico and the aspects that is the West.

The casting by Claudia Becker is fantastic as it features some notable small appearances from Janine Maldonado as El Jefe’s pregnant daughter and Kris Kristofferson as a biker who harasses Elita. Emilio Fernandez is superb as El Jefe as this crime lord who puts a bounty for whoever gets the head of Alfredo Garcia while Helmut Dantine is terrific as a European businessman who orders Bennie to find Garcia’s head where he will pay him a good sum as he wants to deliver the head to collect the bounty. Robert Webber and Gig Young are excellent in their respective roles as the American hitmen Sappensly and Johnny Quill who meet with Bennie early in the film in finding Garcia as they later track him down to collect the bounty.

Isela Vega is brilliant as Elita as this prostitute who knew Garcia as she reluctantly joins Bennie on the trip where she copes with the encounter with the bikers as well as what Bennie is going to do though she too craves for a better life. Finally, there’s Warren Oates in a phenomenal performance as Bennie as this former Army officer who likes to play piano and get drunk where he is given a chance to make money by retrieving a dead man’s head where he gets more than he bargains for where Oates is quite tough but also shows a vulnerability that is rarely displayed as it is Oates in his greatest performance.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a spectacular film from Sam Peckinpah that features an incredible performance from Warren Oates. It’s a film that is absolutely uncompromising in terms of violence and the inhumanity a man faces in his quest to retrieve a man’s head. Even as it is presented with a sense of grittiness and excessive violence that isn’t afraid to be out there and to the fucking point as it is a pure example of “fuck you” cinema. In the end, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is an astonishing film from Sam Peckinpah.

Sam Peckinpah Films: The Deadly Companions - Ride the High Country - Major Dundee - Noon Wine - The Wild Bunch - The Ballad of Cable Hogue - Straw Dogs - Junior Bonner - The Getaway - Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid - The Killer Elite - Cross of Iron - Convoy - The Osterman Weekend - The Auteurs #62: Sam Peckinpah

© thevoid99 2015


Dell said...

Can't believe I haven't watched this yet. It sounds like it's right up my alley, too. Need to get on this.

Chris said...

Can see you are going on a little Peckinpah run this week! Uncomprimising is the right word, I remember the rape scene is controversial, because she appears to encourage it. Definitely a daring film, and I think it was even banned in some countries.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-This is considered one of the most controversial films ever as it was not well-received initially with the exception of a few including Roger Ebert who thought it was a masterpiece and still stood by his opinion on the film. It is often considered to be Peckinpah's last great film but it is certainly unlike anything that is seen in today's world of films.

@Chris-Well, I had a couple of his films in my DVR hard drive as I decided to watch these films and get them out of the way. This is one of my favorites right now as it shows why Peckinpah is so awesome as well as not be afraid to be very confrontational which is lacking in the world of film these days.