Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kevin Makely, Mira Sorvino, Jeff Fahey, Tony Todd, Wes Studi, Trace Adkins, James Russo, Amanda Wyss, Bruce Dern
Written by: Justin Lee
Directed by: Justin Lee
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 117
Date: 11/01/2019

Badland (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Breecher Feature

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Feeling low-budget and low-energy, this Western gets off to a wobbly start, but thanks to several great veteran performers, it soon finds an even, laconic tone that should please fans of the genre.

In Badland, the Civil War is over, and a newly elected black senator (Tony Todd) seeks revenge against the Confederates. He sends out a Pinkerton man, Mathias Breecher (Kevin Makely) to find them and execute them for war crimes. After dispatching "The General" (Trace Adkins), Breecher finds that the next man on his list, Reginald Cooke (Bruce Dern), is gravely ill.

So Breecher vows to wait there until death takes its natural course. Cooke's pretty daughter Sarah (Mira Sorvino) soon comes to appreciate his presence. Meanwhile, he decides to pay a visit to the Quaid family, which has been pressuring Sarah to give up her land, hoping to dissuade them. But the untrustworthy Quaid launches an attack, putting the Cookes in danger. Meanwhile, Breccher has one more target on his list.

Badland begins by more or less throwing away two of its best assets, character actors Tony Todd and Wes Studi, on dull expositional dialogue, explaining 1) why Breecher is doing this job, and 2) why he should quit. An opening face-off likewise feels just a few beats too slow. But when Dern and Sorvino come into the picture, things start to feel a little more soulful.

Writer/director Justin Lee allows them and the hero to form organic relationships, with some lovely conversations, and even moments of no conversation. A few other familiar faces, James Russo, Jeff Fahey, and Amanda Wyss, continue to keep things afloat during the final stretch, as Breecher finishes his mission.

Badland is pretty familiar overall, and far from the best the Western genre has to offer, but it does provide some beautiful, widescreen cinematography, and a few moments of genuine tension, but the sad, wistful characters are its saving grace. (The movie gained popularity on Netflix during the COVID-19 pandemic, so I caught up to it in April of 2020.)

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