Film review: Five Fingers for Marseilles

Genre-bending film Five Fingers for Marseilles – billed as South Africa's first western film – offers a scathing social narrative, endless gritty drama and sharp suspense that immediately positions it as one of the best local productions ever made.

The fast-paced action film doesn't waste anytime in setting the conflict and torment.

The film tells the story of a group of friends who call themselves 'Five Fingers', a ‘gang’ dedicated to protecting their rural town of Marseilles against police oppression.

A life changing incident leads to the character Tau fleeing the town and being on the run for years. He returns 20 years later seeking peace to find the town under new threat.

The film hits all the right notes from the masterful cinematic techniques to the riveting screenplay and terrific ensemble cast.

It is not just an action-packed popcorn thriller or visually exquisite film, but it's also lined with powerful socio-political undercurrents happening in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Helmed by director Michael Matthews and scripted by screenwriter Sean Drummond, for instance, the duo cleverly uses the western theme to depict various aspects that come into play when it comes to land rights. Perfect timing since land reform is such a hot debate in South Africa.

Another under-text is that foreigners are instrumental in the fight to bring freedom to a nation. A clear stance against the xenophobic attacks that have haunted SA in recent years.

The film is made up of a 97% black cast handpicked by acclaimed casting director Moonyeenn Lee. The witty and smart screenplay is strictly in Sesotho, thanks to brilliant translator Mamokuena Makhema.

Portraying his role with such careful subtlety and understated approach; Generations: The Legacy leading man Vuyo Dabula looks the part as the hero Tau – skilled-gunfighter, rugged handsome look and trimmed physique.

In contrast, the incomparable Hamilton Dhlamini is big and showy in his performance as the villain. He delivers such memorable and quotable monologues as the creepy, unforgettable and vicious Sepoko. He's the movie's secret weapon.

As always Warren Masemola is top notch as the volatile Thuto. Mduduzi Mabaso is devastating as fearless, yet vulnerable, Luyanda, popularly referred to as Cockroach.

Kenneth Nkosi amuses as self-serving and cowardice town mayor Bongani. Ingénue Zethu Dlomo, renowned for her TV role as Lethu in Isibaya, delivers a multi-layered performance as feisty Lerato that will undoubtedly launch her into sheer stardom.

Rocking a mop of grey dreadlocks, Jerry Mofokeng wa Makhethe is as smooth as they come as Lerato's father and tavern co-owner Jonah.

The sweeping Eastern Cape landscape supported by the masterful cinematography of Shaun Lee brilliantly stresses the harshness of the wilderness.

As far as wardrobe is concerned, costume designer Pierre Vienings does a splendid job in capturing the cowboy style. Dhlamini rocking a draped head wrap is undoubtedly the best thing you will see all year.

The moody score featuring nostalgic African hymns is heart-achingly beautiful.

Rating: 8/10

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