“A troubled hero seeks redemption by aiding the citizens of an oppressed town.”
Five Fingers for Marseilles (Stage 5 Films)
In hearing this phrase your mind might instantly conjure popularized imagery from the western film genre. Maybe you see a gunslinger with a trusty stead at their side. Perhaps you see a tangerine sun setting on the horizon of the American old west.
Five Fingers for Marseilles recontextualizes this iconic imagery, creating a fresh take on the well-known genre. With its cast’s strong characterization and its beautiful South African imagery the film is a satisfying and unique western experience.
The Tale of Tau:
The plot follows Tau — a man who, after many years, returns to his South African hometown of Marseilles. As a child Tau and his friends made up a group called the “Five Fingers;” together they aimed to protect Marseilles from threats including cruel police forces.
It’s during this time that a clash with these forces turns deadly, forcing Tau to leave his childhood behind. In the passing years, the young boy becomes a man. He’s hardened by a life of crime as well as time in prison.
Now, Tau seeks to start fresh in Marseilles, a place where his old Five Finger members have moved on with their lives. Though Tau desires a new life void of conflict, this life is threatened by the callous groups strong-arming his hometown. With no other options, Tau is forced take up his violent old ways and defend Marseilles once more.
Five Fingers for Marseilles offers succinct storytelling in its opening moments. It’s here where we see the childhood of Tau; in just over fifteen minutes we get a good sense of the Five Finger members, their dynamic, and the Marseilles setting.
During one scene we see several young Five Fingers members, including Tau, practicing shooting with their sling shots; they stand like cowboys, their hands prepared to quick draw as though characters in a Clint Eastwood western. The camera dramatically alternates between their stern faces as they prepare to pelt each other with small rocks.
These childhood glimpses are not only charming but also shape how we’ll come to understand the characters as they become adults. As a child, we see that Tau is eager to fight against the police force using any means necessary. When he believes several police to have caused the death of a Five Fingers member he doesn’t hesitate to kill them. Because of the setup in the opening, you never question how far adult Tau is willing to go to protect Marseilles.
What makes this film shine is the production’s choice to actually film and set the movie in South Africa. Here, the South African town of Lady Grey doubles for Marseilles which is filled with beautiful vistas. The cinematography is showcased in the film’s opening with gorgeous wide shots of seemingly endless plains and mountains.
Director Michael Matthews and cinematographer Shaun Lee also let the environment help convey the story. In one scene a dramatic cliffside exchange between Tao and the ruthless gang leader known as The Ghost is set amidst a dark grey sky and flashes of lightning. Due to Matthew’s and Lee’s choices, there are always beautiful sights to look at throughout the film.
Another standout in the cast is Hamilton Dhlamini who plays Sepoko also known as The Ghost. Dressed in a white headpiece Dhlamini delivers his character’s lines in a chillingly slow and even pace. It’s as though, when speaking, The Ghost is verbally etching into the side of his receiver’s skull that he is always in control.
Five Fingers for Marseilles — Final Verdict:
Even though some of its plotlines end up being unsatisfying throughout the narrative, Five Fingers for Marseilles is a visually beautiful and well-acted film. With its South African setting, it recontextualizes familiar elements of the western and is a worthwhile film-going experience overall.