The Return of the B-Movie that Transcends

1897. America’s first full century is coming to an end. Technological innovations like railroads, telegraphs, rapid-firing weapons, and Edison’s inventions are making America smaller and more manageable. Yet in the New Mexico Territory, encroaching modernity seems distant and irrelevant. Even more so in old Mexico, the setting for a new Western, Dead for a Dollar.

Here, the way of the gun still rules, and a wanderer like Max Borlund (Christoph Waltz) can make a career out of bounty hunting, distributing a lawful form of frontier justice by working for a fee but abiding by a certain code. His natural enemies, too, can live briefly but successfully as antiquated assassins, like Joe Cribbens (Willem Dafoe) does, a chip on his shoulder since Borlund put him behind bars. Even so, this life cannot continue forever.

As Borlund stalks this beautiful wasteland, a wealthy businessman, Martin Kidd (Hamish Linklater), contracts his services. The mission appears simple. Kidd’s wife, Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), has been kidnapped by Elijah Jones (Brandon Scott), an AWOL American Buffalo Soldier—a nickname for a member of an all-black regiment— who has absconded over the Mexican border. Kidd wants her back. The Army lends Max another buffalo soldier, Sgt. Poe (Warren S.L. Burke), to help.

Borlund soon learns that this hostage scenario is a lie, and that Rachel’s husband intends to kill her. Now Max must choose: continue his life of bounty hunting without question or use his talents to side with civilization—two black men escaping subjugation, a restless woman from the East fleeing familial neglect and domestic abuse to find respect, a Mexican chief magistrate protecting his town, and townspeople seeking their living—against wilder, crueler forces from times past, present, and future—an honorable Texas gunman, a Mexican crime lord, and a shady California businessman with political aspirations.

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