This is one of the best spaghetti Westerns I’ve seen, yet I still cannot warm to the Italian variation of the genre. What is admirable about The Great Silence is the stunning photography, taking full advantage of a snow-covered Italian landscape, the dialog-less performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant, and the bleak third act.
There’s no doubt that the film is pretty to look at but resting a film’s merits on its cinematography is silly. It’s a shallow understanding of what makes a Western good, as dumb as highlighting John Ford’s landscapes over his thematic choices. My gripe with The Great Silence goes back to my issue with nearly all European westerns of the 60s and 70s: they’re shallow. They often feature a threadbare story of vengeance and violence, superficial characters, and are void of any ethical/thematic struggle (which is what makes this genre so interesting to me). That description fits The Great Silence with a few exceptions. Just look at the Klaus Kinski performance, a bland and boring effort from the maniac actor compared to his other work. Kinski was the kind of performer who needed a great director to bring it out of him whereas Trintignant could stand on his own. The latter moves through the winter landscapes like he’s in another picture altogether. He’s the Western’s version of Alain Delon’s Le Samourai, though he can only bring so much quiet depth to this shallow picture.
I will say that the final act surprised me. Without giving away any spoilers, the movie veers into something dark and almost profound in its final minutes. If only the rest of The Great Silence was so great.
Watched on Criterion Channel.