That dirty black bag belongs to a grizzled bounty hunter named Red Bill (Douglas Booth). It’s full of the heads of the meanest, meanest outlaws he’s killed because “a head weighs less than a body”. Red Bill is on the road to revenge, looking for a man who murdered a loved one. He arrives in a dying, thirsty town called Greenvale and immediately pisses off the corrupt local sheriff (Dominique Cooper), who stole a good chunk of federal money and is willing to kill as many people as possible to cover it up. The local land baron, Mr. Thompson (Joseph Patterson) tries to starve honest farmer Steve (Christian Cooke) so that he can finally have his land dug for gold. Steve has a tortured romance with local Eve (Sultan Lvl) who dreams of saving the almost dead city with fair water prices. Many people are shot and mutilated. Hilarity ensues.
That dirty black bag dropped its pilot episode with virtually no fanfare on AMC+ this week, a pastiche or update of the Spaghetti Western as a new TV series that just seems to be spinning its wheels. The show doesn’t ask that big question: why should we care? It has all the Spaghetti Western tropes – bloody violence, a general cynicism about the human condition, mean landowners pushing farmers away, desert frontier locations (usually Spain rather than any actual place in the United States States), a slightly bizarre anti-hero, corrupt sheriffs. It really is a TV show dressed up as a spaghetti western. It has a bigger budget than most of the original 1960s movies, but it lacks substance.
The films may not have always been good, but they were overtly political. Their writers and directors were card-carrying Italian Marxists and Communists and turned the plots into allegories of anti-capitalist class warfare between wealthy landowners and corrupt government officials against the people and revolutionaries. These were European commentaries on protests against the Vietnam War and calls for the overthrow of capitalism. That dirty black bag pays homage to corruption and greed, but to little effect. It’s an excuse for a bunch of mostly British actors to wear cowboy hats and carry guns.
In 2022, many old films have aged badly, including spaghetti westerns, alas. Their lack of authenticity is even more glaring than ever. That dirty black bag is all “pose” without reason to exist. There really isn’t any sense of the stakes when all the shootings and murders are free assignments. So that person dies and it’s supposed to be awful. So what? We have already seen it all. Its production values, its grasp of the cinematic lexicon of spaghetti westerns — the widescreen vistas, the extreme close-ups of gritty faces, the occasional trip to gothic horror — are all solid, but that really has nothing to say. When everyone’s a jerk who’s gonna get killed or not for no good reason, who cares? You know what kind of show it is when Aiden Gillenwho played Littlefinger in game of thrones, appears as a creepy herd of goats who is truly a First Frontier serial killer. It’s luscious storytelling that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go. Same Sergio Leone, whose “Dollars Trilogy” kicked off the genre, hated them. If he was the father of the whole genre, “how many sons of a bitch have I fathered?” he lamented. That dirty black bag is really filled with hot air.
That dirty black bag is streaming on AMC+.
That dirty black bag
Review by Adi Tantimedh
AMC’s That Dirty Black Bag is a slick spaghetti western pastiche that is, sadly, all superficial and ultimately an empty exercise in luscious storytelling and gratuitous violence.