In the first part of our Director’s Commentary, Guéra talked about a couple of the movies that were big influences on his vision for SCALPED, namely the westerns HOMBRE and ULZANA’S RAID. For my part, there were lots of films I watched and re-watched while working on the first volume of SCALPED, including TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA (one of my top five all-time favorite crime films), BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (Peckinpah’s woefully unrecognized masterpiece), HOMBRE (just like Guéra), VALDEZ IS COMING, RUSH, UNFORGIVEN, COCKFIGHTER (I love me some Warren Oates), TOKYO DRIFTER, POINT BLANK, THUNDERHEART (still not a very good movie), INCIDENT AT OGLALA, SKINS, THE GREAT SILENCE, ROADHOUSE (“Pain don’t hurt”), BILLY JACK (You betcha), DANCES WITH WOLVES (Fuck you, it’s a good movie)… But there’s only one film I’d list as a true influence on the series (meaning there's one I most obviously ripped off), and that’s 1990’s STATE OF GRACE.
If you haven’t seen STATE OF GRACE, then stop reading now and go get it. You can probably find the DVD for about ten bucks at your local Target, so it’s not a big investment, and you’ll be getting one of the finest crime films of the last 20 years.
If you have seen STATE OF GRACE, then the connection to SCALPED should be obvious: guy returns to his old neighborhood and falls in with the local criminal element, but unbeknownst to them he’s really an undercover cop. In STATE OF GRACE, that cop is played by Sean Penn, the criminals by Ed Harris and Gary Oldman, and the setting is the Irish-American neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. Inspired by the real-life escapades of the Westies, who for years were one of New York’s most brutal criminal organizations, STATE OF GRACE is a gritty and explosive little masterpiece directed by Phil Joanou, who’s only other career highlight was directing U2’s concert film, RATTLE AND HUM. Not only does STATE OF GRACE give you Penn, the finest actor of his generation playing an undercover cop in way the fuck over his head, but you also get Harris at his most intense and Oldman at his most fucking manic. The three of them together snarl, curse, howl, fight, drink, fuck and murder their way through 134 minutes, chewing up every bit of scenery in their midst (though you do still get shining moments from Robin Wright Penn and the great John C. Reilly, and even a terrific little scene with Burgess Meredith). Then there’s the haunting score by Ennio Morricone. And the Peckinpah style editing. And the climax. Goddamn, the climax. I just fucking LOVE a scene where you have a group of tough as nails motherfuckers, all getting together to scour the fucking earth for the guy who’s fucked them over, and then lo and behold, that very guy comes strolling in the front door, calm as can be, armed with a gun and balls of fucking steel. UNFORGIVEN played that for all it was worth, of course, but STATE OF GRACE did it first. (I tried to open SCALPED #1 with a similar type of scene, but just didn’t pull it off right. My bad.)
Still, it wasn’t just the storyline from STATE OF GRACE that influenced SCALPED, but also the moral ambiguity of the characters (I just eat that shit up) and the importance of the setting (obviously). Put all that together with the Leonard Peltier story and dashes of James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Cormac McCarthy and HBO’s “The Wire,” and you’ve got SCALPED. Or at least, what I’m trying to do with SCALPED.
Thanks to all the people who’ve been picking it up. The best is yet to come.