Sam Peckinpah knew he couldn't call a movie Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and get away with it. That's why he did it. When he undertook this nakedly personal project, in self-exile in Mexico, the director was a deeply bitter man out of favor with critics, the media, and the Hollywood establishment, which had just released his Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid in a mutilated version. "Bring Me the Head..." sounded like the parody title of an ultraviolent Sam Peckinpah movie, and he flung it in our faces just as his onscreen surrogate tosses the titular object at the camera. Thing is, the movie is a masterpiece--raw, shocking, beautiful, and brave--in which Peckinpah confronts his enemies and his own demons. Warren Oates plays a gringo piano-player stuck in Mexico who hears that some powerful men are willing to pay a bounty on a guy he knows. They don't know the guy is already dead, killed in a car accident. It'll be easy to exhume the trophy and collect the money--except that it will cost our seedy hero everything he has and ever wanted. John Huston's Treasure of the Sierra Madre had always been a key legend for Peckinpah; this film is a subterranean re-imagining of it, with Oates as both the son of Fred C. Dobbs and the carnival-mirror reflection of Peckinpah himself. And Isela Vega's performance as the sainted whore Elita--bruised and worldly one minute, radiant and clear-skinned as a child the next--is an act of grace. --Richard T. Jameson
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