Ugly is the third film in a trilogy by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood as the "man with no name", and is the biggest budgeted, most epic, and most successful of the bunch. I hadn't seen the first two yet, but I figured it would be okay since it's a prequel set during the Civil War. Quentin Tarantino has called this the best-directed film of all time, and I can see why he might say that. I don't agree, but the movie does a whole hell of a lot right.
The thing about the film is the first fifty minutes and the last twenty are absolutely outstanding; it's just that the hundred minutes in the middle are merely decent. Leone takes the first half hour just to introduce the three leads. Eastwood is "The Good", a protagonist who we root for but never mistake for a particularly good person beyond a few instances of acting nobly. Lee Van Cleef is "The Bad", a hardened killer who's trying to track down a confederate soldier. The sequence that establishes his character is unfortunately the best thing we'll see out of him, but at least it's excellent. And Eli Wallach is "The Ugly", a bandit with constantly fluctuating luck who actually sees the most screen time and character development of the three. He might be the most interesting of the bunch. The first ten minutes or so don't even have dialogue, as Leone shows he can film the hell out of any shootout of showdown you can throw at him. Things eventually bog down once they start marching through the desert, and it's never bad, just the standard western problem of spending too much time not playing to its strengths. There are plenty of good sequences, like when the good and the ugly team up against a group of the bad's thugs, it just drags as a whole. They get to an elaborate scene where union and confederate forces are facing off over a bridge, and it's an impressively large-scale setpiece that I would have liked more if I gave a crap about it.
Eventually though they make it to their intended destination, and we have one of the greatest face-offs in film history. The whole final sequence is a perfect case of the score making the movie better. It might even be better than the direction. Just look at the iconic main theme, using a different instrument for each lead, and which while repeated constantly throughout the film is never once not welcome. "The Ecstasy of Gold" at a moment of great emotional relief is brilliant, and then what plays during the duel is some of the best tension-building music I've ever heard in a film. Clint is almost too badass to live in the last scene and the climax is really just about perfect for the movie. Really, the only thing that dragged the movie down besides the length was the dubbing. The movie was shot silently with a multilingual cast and every line had to be dubbed over. Most of the supporting cast were speaking Spanish or Italian and when you watch them talk it's just hard to take the movie completely seriously. The three leads all spoke English but were still often hit-or-miss with their delivery. I mean, how hard is it to figure out that you might sound different if there's a cigar or wine cork in your mouth? Three hours was too long for this story, but I enjoyed it quite a bit for the most part.