That scurried panic as the white horse pushes through the fog opens Keoma with a sense of urgency that not only sets up the MacGuffin for the gunfighting but displays the strength the spaghetti western could hold as an artistically valuable place. Stunningly good silence, the panicked eyes of survivors of the wreckage. They are unlucky, in a way, for the titular character is going to abandon them. Not for pastures new, though, but for revenge. He is out for blood, probably. Most of these action stars are, why stop now? It would be a disservice to the genre to not have gritty shootouts, dirty anti-heroes, Keoma merely uses that as the backdrop to some wider, forward-thinking ideas.
Franco Nero has some of the finest westerns under his belt, and between this, Texas, Adios and Django, it is clear to see he is the safe pair of hands the genre desperately needed. These typically reliable leading men were rare beasts. Clint Eastwood, Gianni Garko and Lee Van Cleef spring to mind, but Nero is the man with the most variety. Here, he plays a man dealing with the grief and loss of his family. Of course, it is a betrayal that leads him to this point, but how Enzo G. Castellari adapts these tested waters to a surprisingly emotive story. Perhaps it comes from the strength of the story, which looks to take on the massacres and brutality of this period, applying it to a group of brothers whose lives have taken them down severely different paths.
Within these scenes, Nero is astonishingly good. It is not as great a performance as that of Texas, Adios, but the tension and variety on display offer a rewarding performance. He is the man who has lost his brothers, not because of the enemy, but to him. They have sided against him, and have made it rather clear he is not welcomed back. That is the driving force, and how Keoma toys with this is a marvellous experience. Certainly not a piece basing itself on the entertainment value, but a spaghetti western can rarely have such depth. Beyond the shootouts and redemptive arcs, those rare few wish to expand what is possible for the genre. Keoma is one such film, or at least feels like it could be one.
There are lulls throughout, but it is an ultimately rewarding piece of film. Keoma is articulate and pointed in the messages it wishes to ruminate on. Its action leaves something to be desired, though. Slow-motion dominates the occasional scene, and with its removal, there would be a far greater potency to the meaning of the violence. Keoma is salvation, and although that rings true, he is still as dirty and twisted as the rest of the West. That much is solidified well and often, but its impact is limited when the direction is lacking at times. Nero wanders around, often shirtless, sometimes brandishing a weapon. So did all the others. Keoma stands out on its message alone.