Upcoming Western Dead for a Dollar, announced this week during the Cannes virtual market, marks the legendary Hollywood figure’s fifth feature since the new millennium. Thanks to the immediate prestige of both Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe, the film instantly becomes one to watch.
Having just been announced, details around Dead for a Dollar are sparse. According to Deadline, who first shared the exclusive story, the film will take the form of a Western set around the territory of New Mexico in 1897. Christoph Waltz will take the lead as bounty hunter Max Borlund, whose journey will follow an attempt to rescue the kidnapped wife of a successful businessman. Willem Dafoe will play a gambler and outlaw, whose encounter with Borlund will reveal the pair’s connected history.
Walter Hill is a recognised player in the gritty landscape of 1970s American filmmaking, especially for films like The Driver, The Warriors and 48 Hrs. However, such a reputation is more of snowballing cult acclaim, with the first two opening to negative reception and gradually becoming hits. While his directing career has slowed lately (Hill described himself as “semi-retired” in the last decade), he has shifted gear into more production roles and even moved into TV—notably directing the pilot of Western series Deadwood.
As Ebert said of the director, “Hill likes characters that take on a legendary, mythic stature”, and it is therefore no surprise that his career is littered with star collaborations—from Ryan O’Neal in The Driver all the way through to Sylvester Stallone in 2012’s Bullet To The Head. Though these have certainly elevated some of the characters he has produced, it is arguably the director himself who has taken on this mythic status in contemporary culture, with cineliterate directors like Nicholas Winding Refn and Edgar Wright citing him as influences: recent filmgoers may have subconsciously shared in this affection with Hill’s courtroom cameo in the latter’s Baby Driver.
But given the inconsistency of the director’s recent projects, it is probably the two leading actors who have caused the biggest buzz. As for the actors already signed on to the project, Willem Dafoe has previously worked with Hill on 1984’s Streets of Fire. Christoph Waltz has not, but both the actors are renowned for working with singular directors, from Lars von Trier and Robert Eggers to Quentin Tarantino and Terry Gilliam. Coincidentally, the two share more arthouse cachet than ever, with the hotly anticipated Wes Anderson film The French Dispatch including them in a billboard-stretching cast list.
Though there is no release date set for Dead For A Dollar, a collaboration with two of our more distinctive character actors promises to be an explosively cinematic return for Hill.
Words by Max King
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