South Africa stakes their claim in the western genre with ‘Five Fingers for Marseilles’

Justin Jones

When most people imagine a Western film, they generally think of a lone (white) cowboy protecting his (Southern) town and the (also white) people he loves against the (often Mexican) criminals terrorizing them.

South African director Michael Matthews knows these expectations and sends them packing with “Five Fingers for Marseilles,” a nearly all-black Leone-inspired Western.

“Marseilles” breaks from tradition early, with white police taking the place of gang leaders terrorizing the town. The only ones to stand up against these police are a group of children, aspirational freedom fighters that call themselves the Five Fingers. The Fingers’ ill-conceived plan to fight the police gets carried away, with their most aggressive member, Tau (Vuyo Dabula), murdering a policeman and fleeing their home.

Tau continues a criminal streak into adulthood, and after a brief stint in prison he finally returns home. Marseilles is completely different upon his arrival, prospering under the reign of a new mayor, but secretly run by a more traditional Western gangster, known here as The Ghost (Hamilton Dhlamini). It takes a good while for this plot to kick into gear, but Matthews’ deliberate pacing allows him to craft a world that feels tangible. After seeing this movie, the viewer will feel like they know Marseilles, and each each street, block and person in it.

As it is a Western, “Five Fingers for Marseilles” eventually ends in a massive action scene, but it's relatively quiet until then. More than anything, the film is a character piece, an exploration of one’s loss of innocence, and a beautiful depiction of man’s inhumanity.


  • “Five Fingers for Marseilles”
  • Rating: Not yet rated
  • Runtime: 120 minutes
  • Score: 4.5/5 stars