Western films and TV shows have been a staple of American culture for decades. From classic John Wayne films to shows like Gunsmoke, we’ve always had Westerns on our screens. In the last several years especially, we’ve seen a true re-emergence of the genre. Series like Godless (Netflix), Hell on Wheels (AMC), and 1883 (Paramount+) has brought the Western back to TV audiences. We now have another compelling entry in that list, That Dirty Black Bag. This new series from AMC+ finds its roots in spaghetti Westerns. This genre was made famous by directors such as Sergio Leone and films like his “Dollars Trilogy” that starred Clint Eastwood. While watching That Dirty Black Bag, you will certainly notice the influences of those films, and in my opinion, this series does them proud.
A WORTHY HOMAGE TO THE SPAGHETTI WESTERN
From the moment the series begins you can see the spaghetti Western influences. The opening sequence is a wonderful reference to the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West. I won’t give anything away, but anyone who has seen that film will immediately recognize the callback. I loved everything about this first scene and it sets the tone for what is to follow.
Like the famous spaghetti Westerns that came before it, the series was shot in Italy, Spain, and Morocco. Director/Creator Mauro Aragoni makes beautiful use of the landscapes present in those locations. Aragoni and PJ Dillion (Cinematographer) utilize Leone-inspired wide shots of the terrain throughout the series to great effect. Overall, the series is wonderfully shot and has several standout scenes.
I should also note, that while clearly influenced by the genre, the series does stand on its own and never comes across as a simple copy of those previous works. The creative team behind That Dirty Black Bag takes those influences and makes them their own.
‘THAT DIRTY BLACK BAG’ HITS THE MARK
From a story perspective, That Dirty Black Bag hits all the marks you’d come to expect in a spaghetti Western. Classic elements such as revenge, love, outlaws, and greedy landowners are all on display during the series. Not to mention an array of guns and blood. It would be easy to simply fall into these story tropes, but That Dirty Black Bag uses each to weave a compelling story for the audience. I was only able to screen the first 3 of the 8 episodes, but I can already appreciate the character and story-building taking place. I will admit that early on I did have concerns that the story was going in too many directions with the various characters and storylines. But thankfully, the writers knew exactly what they were doing, and the pieces started to fall into place.
The trailer, which can be seen below, does allude to a mysterious occult-type group that will play a factor in the series. The first few episodes begin to display that in a subtle method which I appreciated. It can be tempting to jump right into it and smash the audience in the face with information, but the series is taking a less-is-more approach. Leaving breadcrumbs along the way for the audience to begin to piece together on their own. To me, this shows the writers and Aragoni understand the viewers’ ability to be engaged in the story and not need everything handed to them immediately.
‘THAT DIRTY BLACK BAG’ TRAILER
WESTERN CHARACTERS WITH DEPTH
Westerns can often times suffer from a lack of true character depth. The outlaw is out for the money, the Sheriff is here to save the day, and the poor farmer just wants his land to grow crops. While this simplicity can be entertaining at times, it can leave the audience wanting more. That Dirty Black Bag, I’m happy to say, does not suffer from the pitfall of one-dimensional characters. While the characters we meet may initially seem as though they fall into nice stereotypical Western characters, as the story progresses, we discover they are much deeper. Overall, the entire ensemble cast does an excellent job in their respective roles. With standout performances by Dominic Cooper (Sheriff McCoy), Douglas Booth (Red Bill), and Niv Sultan (Eve). Outside of the main cast, the rest are also well written and performed. Including a wonderful guest performance in Episode 3 by Aidan Gillen.
When it comes to Westerns, it can be exceedingly difficult to find something new and original. The genre has been around for nearly 100 years. That Dirty Black Bag does an admirable job of walking the line of staying true to its spaghetti Western roots while also telling a new and compelling story. I do also want to mention, the series seamlessly integrates some elements of horror with great success. Now, it doesn’t go full-tilt Western horror like the film Bone Tomahawk, but the series doesn’t shy away from raw and gruesome moments. Overall these moments of horror never feel disjointed with the rest of the story but are effective in revealing more about the larger narrative.
As a lifelong fan of Westerns, I had high-noon hopes for That Dirty Black Bag and I was thrilled to find those hopes met and exceeded. When the last episode ended that I was able to screen, I immediately felt disappointed that I had to wait a few weeks for the next episode. I don’t know what the future will hold for That Dirty Black Bag for the rest of this season, or if it will find life in Season 2. But I’m more than excited to find out. If you are a fan of Westerns I recommend giving this series a watch when the first episode premieres on March 10th on AMC+.