The progenitor of the classic Eastwood western, and antithesis in many more ways, High Plains Drifter is a crazy film in so many ways it’s hard to put it into words. It is technically a western, but it forgoes so many conventions of the typical western that it becomes very difficult to watch the film as you would a normal western, so don’t even try. Instead, take the film for what it is; a solid if unnerving tale of answering for what you’ve done in the past, even if what you did was do nothing at all.
The story combines elements of High Noon and Seven Samurai; a stranger rides into town and, after showing off his impressive skills, is coerced into helping defend the town from a group of gunslingers. Simple enough plot, and one that has been used before, but High Plains Drifter establishes itself as different from the rest with its mindset and method. For a western, this film is really weird in the tone it possesses. It is extremely eerie, with tonal music keeping us on the edge for pretty much the entire film. Not to mention the weird sort of vicious vengeance Eastwood’s typically-nameless character enacts on the town as his payment for defending it; I won’t go into too much detail as to everything he does, as it’s been said before and in better words than I could, but suffice it to say it touches a resonant nerve with me; I am one to believe in karma, and this film spoke to that side of me in a creepy whisper that made me sit up and pay attention.
This is not a typical western by any means. I don’t think even Eastwood himself would ever get this heady with a western again as he does with High Plains Drifter; it is a mindtrip, plain and simple. The film just barely registers as a western, and really only because of its color scheme, locations, and characters. Otherwise, this is a film unlike anything you have ever seen, or likely ever will see, and it couldn’t be more engaging. Eastwood shows incredible talent behind the camera for only his second film as director, and he really makes you sit up and take notice with this one. This is so different from the norm that I can see how it made the must see list, as it is certainly worthy of your time and attention. Just know what you’re getting into before you do.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10