Based on a classic western, That dirty black bag navigates between gender homage and bold modernization.
What is that dirty black bag? Trained by Civil War veteran Anderson (Travis Fimmel), Red Bill (Douglas Booth) is a bounty hunter who roams the plains of the wild west. To obtain his reward, he decapitates his victims with an ax and carries the head in an old black bag – because, “a head is less heavy than a body”, as he likes to repeat. When he arrives near a small town in decline, his path crosses that of Arthur McCoy (Dominic Cooper), a violent and corrupt sheriff, and the confrontation is immediate.
If the genre is experiencing a new breath in the world of series, the last few months have been particularly prolific in westerns. After 1883 and 1923 dedicated to the ancestors of the Dutton family of Yellowstonethe Billy the Kid by Stephen Knight and The English with Emily Blunt, here is That dirty black bag, available on YY. A series that we owe to Mauro Aragoni, an Italian director who drew directly from his own 2015 film, Questa sporca sacca nera, and who cites among his influences The good, the bad and the ugly… and The thing by John Carpenter. This mix is the key to his series, and that’s how he sold it to AMC+.
That dirty black bag cheerfully draws on the side of spaghetti westerns. Starting with the wild landscapes of the far west (or rather Puglia and southern Spain), perfectly exploited. Meadows as far as the eye can see, overwhelmingly hot deserts, dusty cities… The respect for the style of great directors like Sergio Leone or John Ford is obvious, and the first episode even begins with the classic gun duel, between two characters face to face. Same thing in the finale, which brilliantly resumes these epic deadly duels – with a staggering mortality rate which nevertheless leaves enough survivors for a second season where we can continue to shoot each other. But the series also strives to modernize the genre, thanks to an often inventive realization with Tarantinesque accents but also by introducing a dimension of horror or even slasher. If you mix The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you’ll get something similar to That dirty black bag – for an incongruous but successful result that makes all the salt of the series. Classic but with a twist.
The adventures of Red Bill constitute the common thread, over a period of 8 days. On the one hand, flashbacks return to his past alongside his mentor Anderson; on the other hand, he meets in his wanderings a multitude of characters, again classic, although often slightly or even downright psychopathic. The sadistic rancher, the bloodthirsty outlaw seeking to recover stolen loot, the disillusioned farmers, the pimp mother, the kind-hearted prostitute, the obsessive gold diggers, the wealthy speculator who wants to force farmers to sell their land… In short, disreputable people, trigger-happy. And in particular Arthur McCoy, the essential sheriff who turns out to be ruthless and obviously has a heavy past behind him, with whom the confrontation is immediate.
The series benefits from an exciting cast, with actors well known to series fans and who have a lot of fun riding on horseback and drawing their colt – we have the impression that they take immense pleasure in playing in a series worthy of the movies that many of them must have seen when they were little. Among them, Dominic Cooper (the Howard Stark of mcu), Aidan Gillen (TheWire), Christian Cooke (Magic City), Guido Caprino (Il Miracolo) or Douglas Booth who beautifully embodies the bounty hunter Red Bill. We should also mention Travis Fimmel (viking), who was directly involved in the project, in front of and behind the camera as a producer.
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The mixture of spaghetti western / horror is quite unsettling, especially because the result is irregular. In some mid-season episodes, it feels more like juxtaposition than fusion. By drawing from two equally brutal genres and despite graphic and often aesthetic violence, the series does not have finesse or subtlety as its objective either.
The series also remains very classic in its script: a handful of characters, a well-defined plot, a mechanism that is certainly well-honed but which, in turn, reveals springs that are quite easy to grasp… In addition, the episodes are not free of lengths and play often on long exposure stages before a violent outburst. And it is better to have a strong heart, some sequences being quite gory or at least disturbing. You may long remember one of the first scenes, filmed from the perspective… of the decapitated head in the bag.
At last, That dirty black bag offers a radically different approach to Yellowstone or of 1883, which describe an era in the background and place the characters in a social and / or historical context. Here, it’s a microcosm where a handful of lone snipers (whether good or bad) cross paths, motivated only by revenge or wealth; the series only cares about their personal interests to the detriment of great collective aspirations and the narrative sometimes suffers from this lack of breadth.
We see if… we are a fan of westerns; we like emblematic characters because there are a lot of them; we are ready to be surprised by an explosive mixture.
We don’t look to see if… we can’t stand the violence; we prefer a choral series that explores all the complexity of the conquest of the far west; we hate westerns (but that, you understood)
That dirty black bag.
8 episodes of around 60′.
January 4, 2023 on Paramount+.
Are we watching or not? That Dirty Black Bag (Paramount+) | VL Media