The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ★★★½

At the center of a massive Civil War cemetery, three renegades strategically size each other up with suspicious glances and pistols cocked in what has to be one of the most electrifying visual moments ever put to film. For nearly three hours, these men have been chasing after buried treasure through a sprawling, war-ravaged landscape in which there is only death, ruin and perpetual backstabbing. The grave stones around them have become symbols of not only where their greed and lack of humanity has taken them, it also reflects the ever-escalating bloodshed between the Confederates and the Union and those greasy war dogs who slaughter each other on the periphery. Leone's visual sense of the Wild West during the American Civil War is perfectly captured in this waiting-to-blink Reservoir Dogs standoff. The famously coined "Trio" sequence is impressive on a lot of levels. It combines the realism of history with the surrealism of theater, a crowning visual moment where it appears that nothing is happening yet everything is happening at the same time. I dare say it rivals PSYCHO's shower sequence as one of the best frenetically edited sequences in movie history. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly enter into a wordless confrontation for two and a half minutes locked in a triangular formation of crackling nerves. They just sit there and stare at each other in long, drawn out silence, waiting with bated breath for who will draw first while Morricone's flamboyant, larger-than-life score buries itself into your soul. The energy is profound. The visual poetry is next level. It's not about "what" happens, it's about "how" it happens. Whatever you think this moment lacks in narrative urgency is abundantly made up for in aggressive cinematic style, form and creative flourish. Morricone's score is doing the heavy lifting, but equally profound is the frantic editing that places you directly into the minds of these on-edge criminals. Leone milks every tool he has in the quiver: Tense close-ups of hands, guns, eyes and faces. A variety of wide-shots and canted angles to increase the fear and anticipation. The way he cuts to the musical rhythm of the score and creates a balletic relationship between each character and their chaotic urges. It's straight up opera. Visually striking and sonically god-like. 

A riveting, hyper-stylized climax that comes once in a blue moon and had me shivering. Had Leone sustained even a fraction of this energy throughout the whole film, I'd be singing kumbaya with the rest of humanity and call THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY a bonafide masterpiece. Maybe one day I'll get there, but for now I know for sure the "Trio" sequence is a masterpiece.

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