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Unlikely Heroes

Uncover the mysterious figure of the nameless outsider in film, given form by David Beckham as the brooding daredevil in Outlaws

The Stranger in Outlaws

Who IS that guy? The stranger who walks into a bar, a diner or someone's life, with a silent confidence that says he's about to change everything, has been a template for film heroism ever since the days when talking in movies wasn't possible. It reached its apogee in the 1960s when Sergio Leone made A Fistful of Dollars and two more classic spaghetti westerns, all starring Clint Eastwood as a figure with a crucial piece of missing info: The Man with No Name.

The anonymous drifter is a man pared down. The worries and loyalties that weaken the rest of us have been stripped away. He's a primal force. In Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, he's a youth whose easy virility is a threat. In Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, he's a supernatural harbinger of justice. If he's set on revenge, like Charles Bronson in Once upon a Time in the West, he's impervious to reason, since he reveals nothing.

The nameless stranger is also a chameleon, a canvas on which to paint whatever turns you on. Eastwood's Man with No Name does have a moniker but it's different in every Dollars movie - 'Joe', 'Manco', 'Blondie' - because it's bestowed on him by others.

'My name?' drawls Daniel Craig in Layer Cake. 'If you knew that, you'd be as clever as me.'

The Stranger in Outlaws

Modern movies rarely use the nameless man archetype, but anonymity still helps stories that strive for elemental power. The survivors in The Road have been dehumanised by the apocalypse; the couple in Lars von Trier’s agonising Antichrist are Mankind and Womankind; Ed Norton in Fight Club has no name because… well, no spoilers.

When he began the Dollars trilogy, Eastwood asked Leone to give him fewer lines, and he stayed still, that poncho discouraging any gesture bigger than an eye-flash. He was, to employ a much-abused word, iconic. Powerful as it is to see a glimmer of the man behind the mask - we care about Ryan Gosling in Drive because he, in his hyper-manly, minimalist way, cares for others - the role means setting your features to granite and allowing lustful close-ups to do the talking. It's a skill shared by the gods of any sector of pop culture where billboard stars are made.

So we come to The Outlaws, a knowingly stylised 15-minute mash of biker B-movies, nickel noirs, Fellini circus films and the infinite Mexican wilderness, all swirling round a nameless hero with nothing left to lose.

The performer lending his visage to a character writer/director Geremy Jasper conceived as 'a rock 'n' roll version of The Man with No Name'? David Beckham. The casting makes sense as it sinks in: a man with one awesome skill (football, rather than the classic Nameless Stranger disciplines of driving or shooting, but it works) who has let his perfect face speak for him, not putting too many words in the way of fans' fantasies. Like all those anonymous heroes, he is what you want him to be.

The Stranger in Outlaws

Jack Seale writes for the Guardian and Radio Times