That Dirty Black Bag Season 1 Review: A gory, chaotic western pays homage to the past
That Dirty Black Bag premiered on AMC+ on March 10, 2022 and ran to one season of eight episodes. July 26, 2022 marks the release of Season 1 on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Mauro Aragoni, Silvia Ebruel and Marcello Izzo have created a faithful homage to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns.
While this will no doubt draw comparisons to Deadwood (that other popular Western TV series), sonically they feel very different.
That Dirty Black Bag borrows as much from the gore/horror genre as it does from any type of western – spaghetti, revisionist or otherwise.
An underlying plot centers around a mysterious cult that requires human sacrifice, with one such devotee literally having a mountain of skulls in his garden.
Brian O’Malley and Mauro Aragoni take turns directing each of the season’s eight episodes with artisanal attention to detail, but the most gorgeous work comes courtesy of cinematographer PJ Dillon.
The vistas of Spain, the Sahara Desert and Italy are beautiful and evocative. The earth is a character in its own right – the most ruthless of all.
Another amazing element of this show is the music by Mick Giacchino. Again, this is all very much an homage (some might say derivative) to the scores of Ennio Morricone (frequent collaborator of Sergio Leone).
The flute, the ocarina, the drums, all of it – it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show, elevating the atmosphere and tying it all together.
The music tells us how the characters feel and how we should feel about them.
From a acting perspective, this cast has charisma to spare. None of the men are particularly likeable, but they are mostly convincing and layered.
Douglas Booth is virtually unrecognizable as gruff bounty hunter Red Bill. With a gritty voice and a layer of grime, Booth carries Bill’s trauma close to his chest, only releasing it when it’s time to destroy the monsters he encounters.
It’s also worth noting that the actor who plays Bill as a teenager, Francesco Piacentini-Smith, is also impeccably cast.
Not only do the two actors look strikingly alike, but Piancenti-Smith fits more than his own in Bill’s original episode, alongside Travis Fimmel as Anderson.
Dominic Cooper has the swagger of a small-town sheriff, but there’s a depth behind his eyes that, as revelations are made with each passing episode, makes sense and shows how many layers he’s got. beneath the surface.
The back and forth between Bill and McCoy was always compelling. It’s less cat and mouse and more like two wild dogs chasing each other.
The final Mexican “duel” in Episode 8 was so relevant, right down to the close-ups of the characters’ eyes and hands wobbling above the holsters.
We’ve seen the scene in so many outlets before, but saving it for the final episode, it felt justified and slightly cheesy. The intensity was there, and it felt, unlike most shows up to that point, fun instead of being so dark.
Guido Caprino is suitably terrifying as Bronson.
The name being clearly a nod to American actor Charles Bronson – it even bears a resemblance!
As Bronson’s motives become clearer (the cult’s plot still seems underdeveloped), he gains, if not sympathy, more nuance than just being a direct antagonist.
The show isn’t afraid to send in some of its most recognizable stars or characters, which makes every scene even more tense and thrilling.
The female characters are a mixed bag, sadly not unusual for a western.
The strongest of them all is Niv Sultan as Eve, a powerful madam who basically rules the town with McCoy. She is also a matriarchal figure for the women who work at the Red Lantern.
Their familiar relationship and devotion to each other was beautiful to behold, and I wish I’d seen them get more screen time to offset the show’s machismo and relentless horror.
Eve’s arc is frustrating in that it seems hopeless. She had so much potential, but believing she could get away with it with a vengeance, she sealed her fate.
Eve also seemed too good for Steve, and it was uncomfortable to see such a strong woman keep wanting to throw away her power for a man.
This created an interesting dynamic with Symone, who wanted to live a safe life even though she didn’t like Nate.
Eve’s nature was paradoxical, and it was as if the writers had abandoned her because they didn’t really know what to do with her. The fact that she gave up everything for her friends was right and true for her character.
Christian Cooke as Steve didn’t exactly come across as someone a woman like Eve would throw it all away for.
Steve’s wife Michelle, played stoically by Zoe Boyle, had her own intriguing story, particularly in her relationship with Paterson Joseph’s Thompson, also a fascinating character.
What happened between them is not fully explored but mostly implied.
The conclusion of Thompson’s story was unfortunate given the depth and potential of her character, but what else could have been done under the circumstances?
Frankly, Steve was one of the least interesting characters because he was so tasteless. At least Michelle called him and let him know when his prayers were finally answered, and he finally made a firm resolve.
The trope of “violence against women” played out here is exhausting, especially given the promise of Eve’s character.
We see a sex worker beaten up and disfigured (like at the beginning of Unforgiven by Clint Eastwood) and a boy traumatized because his mother (anonymous) was killed in front of him.
Symone’s future is intriguing given her current associations, so what writers do with her character will be something to watch, whether she rises to her challenges or follows her mentor’s path.
This Dirty Black Bag plays it “safe” for the most part because it doesn’t care as much about reinventing its genre’s tropes as it does about recreating them.
Unfortunately, the show relied on native stereotypes. How exciting it would have been had they chosen to flip the silent, menacing trope and create a multi-dimensional native character with a real name.
Spaghetti Westerns were considered incredibly violent by cinematic standards in their day, so the ante had to be raised here to replicate the shock value. But the violence is relentless and therefore begins to lose its impact by the end of the season.
This Dirty Black Bag is mostly humorless and vicious, but often beautiful.
Should we watch it? It depends. If you’re a fan of classic Sergio Leone westerns, you’ll get a lot out of it – that is, you can stomach quite a bit of gore.
It respects its origins and predecessors while telling a new, albeit familiar, story.
Mary LittleJohn is an editor for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.