Roger Ebert Home

The Unloved, Part 124: Play Dirty

"Play Dirty" is a witty, acerbic, gorgeously ugly film that says something a lot of people don't want to hear but internalize every day: War is a feature of life, not a bug. We decided it was an acceptable price to pay for living. Somewhere out there someone's being bombed out of their homes, hounded by US-backed cadres, marching towards infinity to make room for a superpower, if they survived the barrages and bullets. It's rare you see the truth laid bare, but we get to see it in our art because something else is also true: you can't convince the public of the necessity to stop warfare because it happens to be immoral. Lots of things are immoral, we fight them or we don't, and war is too intrinsic to American life to fight. It's what we tell ourselves keeps us free. 

André de Toth fled Hungary before the second world war and relocated to the US where he made westerns and films noir attacking American complacency in its everyday iterations, a more sly, less expressionistic Fritz Lang, who allowed his audience to put together puzzle pieces and see the picture of corruption ourselves (to quote Martin Scorsese, his most high profile disciple today, "Can you find the wolves in this picture?"). But he never made anything half as dark as "Play Dirty" in America. He needed censorship to relax, attitudes to change. "Play Dirty" is the first film of the 1970s, a film made in the image of Robert Aldrich's "The Dirty Dozen" that bests it for sheer acrimony and ballsiness. A final kiss off from a one-eyed poet of treachery and torture. A man who saw everything, forgot nothing, and cowered before no one. This director knew war was not natural, not what man was meant to create, and yet we cannot stop. We cannot stop. 

Scout Tafoya

Scout Tafoya is a critic and filmmaker who writes for and edits the arts blog Apocalypse Now and directs both feature length and short films.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

We Grown Now
Blood for Dust
Dusk for a Hitman
Stress Positions
Hard Miles


comments powered by Disqus