Dead for a Dollar is a proud heir to a longstanding lineage of low-budget westerns. Consider that a feature and a bug.
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This story is bound to lead to several showdowns at once, and the action climax is beautifully orchestrated by Hill: it’s suspenseful, jarring, and never descends to formal cheating of narrative cheapness to give the audience what it wants and deserves.
Dead for a Dollar is a revisionist western served up in a traditional twine-tied package.
Although Hill certainly puts in a few sly tips of the hat to canonical and cult favorites and is clearly enjoying exploiting the audience’s expectations of the genre, Dead for a Dollar isn’t an empty nostalgia exercise. Nor is it a revisionist postmodern deconstruction. It’s somewhere between the two, built on a narrative architecture as classical in its vernacular as Doric columns on a bank, but with details that will surely remind audiences of the future that it was made in the 2020s.
Dead for a Dollar provides a decently intriguing yarn within the framework of the Western that burrows a few inches below the surface. No one can say Hill didn’t hold up his end of the deal, which may be all that matters to him in the end.
Hill wants to “do justice” to each of these people, but the result is that Dead for a Dollar doesn’t have a dramatic core. It has actors we like to watch, doing what they do well (like Waltz playing a civilized badass), but it isn’t structured so that any of their fates gets a rise out of us.
Sluggishly paced, stodgily scripted and curiously edited, it’s not so much a bullet ballet as a creaky dance across an abandoned saloon.
Dead for a Dollar is derivative by nature, but not in unpleasing ways.
Despite a hectic list of characters and their grievances, the plot is not tightly constructed and scans, for stretches, like a hang-out movie.