One topic the Spaghetti Western would often discuss is the diluting of honest souls and individuals who, had their circumstances been slightly different, would lead the charge for justice and good. Face to Face corrupts those minds rather eagerly and easily, a professor of history looking to retire to a quiet life in the face of ill-health is roped into an outlaw gang. Fascination gets the better of him, and rather than accept his quiet way of life, he looks for new sparks of excitement and interest, falling to petty crimes and building his way up to the top of the pile as a truly rotten man.
Gian Maria Volonté portrays this eventually dishonest history lecturer, and does so with promise and well-versed engagement. His lines turn from feeble and worrisome to biting and sour. As Face to Face plunders deep into the darker moments, so too do its characters. While director Sergio Sollima offers these gritty moments, they are not out of place in this genre, one that was beginning to gain traction after the success of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly just a year prior. There are more merits to be had for the genre than that of Clint Eastwood, and Face to Face presents us a key piece of evidence to suggest that all you need to make an incredible western is a sleek two hours and plenty of gun-toting action.
Cramming content that has enough range and scope to support a three-hour epic, Face to Face makes use of its time. These efforts do not go unchecked, Sollima works tirelessly alongside his cast and crew to make sure that every second counts. If a moment doesn’t accelerate the plot or engage with some such theme or idea, then it goes to the scrap-heap. In turn, we are presented a narrative that does away with notions of slow pacing. There is no time here to appreciate the world Fletcher (Volonté) finds himself in, although efforts are made to detail his spiral into degeneracy rather well. It misses that extra something, and the predictable tones and colours of the Old West present themselves without much fuss. They kick up nothing but the usual pangs and tensions, Face to Face is just lucky that it needs exactly that.
A film that does find its footing early on, Sollima works tirelessly to present a western that feels slightly personal, as well as efficient in its entertainment value. Face to Face offers daring and deceitful characters, gelling well with the anti-hero antithesis of the time. A strong backdrop that doesn’t stay away from the usual tones provided by most other spaghetti westerns offers a comfortable backdrop to a story that wishes to shake the cobwebs off of the stagnating genre cycle. Taking comfort in the usual suspects of the genre, Sollima and those around him do not settle for a plodding story of brief shootouts and winning the hand of every fearful citizen in sight. It goes beyond that, and crafts a superb time for those needing a jolt of energy in a genre happy to coast along on a few clichés.