Each Monday, I am sharing reviews of Westerns I studied to prepare for making 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Eight: Posse (1975) & Posse (1993)
This week, I chose to watch two Western films with the same title, made almost twenty years apart and quite different from each other. They do share one more connection: both films are directed by actors.
I admire Kirk’s desire to do something different with this Western. The political twist works so well and the way it touches on the hypocrisy and ethical corruption of the politician makes the film forever relevant.
As a director, he also does a great job of telling various aspects of the story, staging the action (the train climax is quite stunning), and delivering a central performance that carries everything along. I think the film should have been longer, giving him more opportunity to develop the town’s anger and the reporter character, who is fascinating but either cast incorrectly or not provided the right tools to really resonate.
Dern, between this, The Cowboys, and The Driver, must be one of cinema’s most under-appreciated villains. I love the way his reversal is played in this because I believe it and I would do the same thing the characters do at the end of the film.
Seen on Amazon Prime.
I thought hard about why this film doesn’t work through most of its runtime. It’s possible to get into because it’s a clash of film worlds. One one hand, I think Mario possesses the same raw, rough energy his dad exhibited in the cult film Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song. That’s the film world where a lot of the content of Posse feels like it belongs. However, Mario’s other hand is submerged in Hollywood, stylized in the most polished way.
This latter tendency is his weakness as a filmmaker, not just with this one but New Jack City as well. These movies shouldn’t have had big budgets or big casts. They have a hardcore, rebel vibe somewhere deep inside but it gets totally waxed off with the gloss of the Hollywood machine. Mario’s intentions are clear in the very end when he leaves us with titles describing the plight of African-Americans in the West. But where the hell was that in the movie? We just watched a blazing, bloated shoot ’em up that contains no strong sign of those intentions. He got lost along the way…
It’s a shame too. Because this could have made a very interesting independent like The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. It also could have been a pure Hollywood romp (and successful one) like The Quick and The Dead. Both films, like many in the 90s, are drenched in over-stylization. For Posse, it distracts. For Raimi’s film, it works just enough to make it fun with no desire to be anything else.
Seen on Amazon Prime.
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