×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Badland’

Justin Lee’s indie Western should satisfy genre enthusiasts with a strong cast and an entertaining spin on a familiar story.

Director:
Justin Lee
With:
Kevin Makely, Mira Sorvino, Jeff Fahey, Tony Todd, Wes Studi, Trace Adkins, James Russo, Amanda Wyss, Bruce Dern.
Release Date:
Nov 1, 2019

Running time: 117 MIN.

Writer-director Justin Lee carves another notch on his six-shooter — or at least another credit on his IMDb page — with “Badland,” his third indie Western (after the direct-to-video titles “Any Bullet Will Do” and “A Reckoning”) to be released within the past two years. This time out, Lee is working with a budget that allows for more polished production values and a larger number of familiar faces in the supporting cast, all of which may help him attract an audience beyond the chronically underserved demographic of die-hard western fans who often must settle for less (sometimes, a lot less) when they’re checking out the new DVD/Blu-ray releases at stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

Better still, the new film — which opens theatrically in 11 markets Nov. 1 simultaneously with on-demand and digital HD release — is, taken on its own terms, a solidly crafted piece of work that, despite its leisurely pacing, manages to infuse a respectable amount of fresh vigor into clichés and conventions common to shoot-’em-ups set during the post-Civil War era. And while it would be overstating the case to describe “Badland” as revisionist, it does earn respect for being a Western in which good guys actually have to pause and reload — repeatedly — during extended gunfights.

Kevin Makey, Lee’s frequent collaborator, persuasively inhabits the lead role of Matthias William Breecher, a man of few words and many bullets. With his gravelly voice, formidable stare and confidant physicality, Makey really doesn’t have to do all that much to establish his tough-guy bona fides while portraying a Pinkerton detective hired by a slave-turned-Senator (Tony Todd) to track down war criminals who fought for the Confederacy. Indeed, throughout much of “Badland,” Lee positions the actor as an unassuming anchor for scenes that are otherwise dominated by well-cast supporting players whose colorful dialogue is peppered with lines that occasionally stretch into mini soliloquies.

Popular on Variety

The narrative is divided into chapter breaks, with an attention-grabbing prologue serving the dual purpose of introducing Breecher as a lethally efficient manhunter, and showcasing singer/actor Trace Adkins as a grandiloquent former general who, not surprisingly, would rather not be hanged for his wartime misdeeds.

Adkins drawls, gesticulates, and generally milks his cameo role with shamelessly entertaining brio, so that it’s almost a disappointment when Breecher summarily dispatches the general (along with a few flunkies) before the film’s title appears on screen.

This leads to the longest and best stretch of “Badland,” as Breecher tracks down another war criminal, Reginald Cooke (Bruce Dern), only to find the aged ex-Confederate is bedridden and fatally ill on his ranch under the watchful eye of Sarah (Mira Sorvino), his resourceful daughter. Breecher figures there’s no use arresting, or shooting, a man who’s already so close to death’s door, so he decides to simply stick around long enough to let nature take its course.

This, naturally, gives Cooke ample time with the Pinkerton to talk — sometimes angrily, sometimes regretfully — about his ill-spent life and his loving daughter. Meanwhile, Sarah spends almost as many minutes conversing with the taciturn stranger, describing her mixed emotions about her father and their failing farm — and her growing attraction to Breecher. Dern and Sorvino are so effective and affecting in this “chapter,” and Makey is so convincing as Breecher’s careful arm’s-length reserve begins to dissipate, that when there’s an emotionally and dramatically satisfying resolution to this episode — brought about courtesy of a violent land-grabber played by James Russo — it feels like the perfect place to end the movie.

But then Breecher gets on his horse and heads elsewhere for another half-hour or so.

The structural disjointedness of “Badland” is more than a tad jarring. On the other hand, what follows the interlude at the Cooke ranch can’t be dismissed as filler, if only because the final third of the movie focuses on another amusing spectacle of hambone scenery-chewing. As Huxley Wainwright, a Southern-fried sadist who has installed himself more or less as a monarch in a gone-to-seed mining town, Jeff Fahey squeezes the juice out of every florid pronouncement, every purring bit of snark or condescension, and gives every indication that he is having the time of his life. The sheer delight he takes in expressing nastiness is highly contagious, especially when Wainwright goads Breecher into what he promises will be “a good old-fashioned, dime-novel showdown.”

Wes Studi and Amanda Wyss also figure into the mix as Breecher’s not-entirely-friendly rival in the manhunting business and a saloon proprietor eager to free herself from Wainwright’s control. Their contributions are more like flavorsome enhancements than essential elements, but they are no less welcome for being so. “Badland” makes an engaging impression as the sum total of such disparate bits and pieces.

Film Review: ‘Badland’

Reviewed online, Houston, Oct. 30, 2019. Running time: 117 MIN.

Production: A Cinedigm release of a Papa Octopus Productions presentation and production. Producer: Kevin Makely. Executive producers: Jennifer Ambrose. Shawn Nightingale.

Crew: Director, writer: Justin Lee. Camera (color): Idan Menin. Editor: Michael Tang. Music: Jared Forman.

With: Kevin Makely, Mira Sorvino, Jeff Fahey, Tony Todd, Wes Studi, Trace Adkins, James Russo, Amanda Wyss, Bruce Dern.

More Film

  • 'Sunless Shadows' Review: Piercing Iranian Doc

    IDFA Film Review: 'Sunless Shadows'

    “Listen to women” has become the mantra of the MeToo age, though films that entirely follow its simple directive remain relatively few. “Starless Dreams” was one: Mehrdad Oskouei’s superb 2016 documentary engaged in aching, revealing dialogue with multiple teenage girls in a Tehran juvenile correctional facility, lending an open, sympathetic ear to their stories of [...]

  • Trusted reindeer Sven and curious snowman

    'Frozen 2' Heads for Sizzling $130 Million North American Launch

    Disney’s “Frozen 2” is heading for a hot $130 million opening weekend at 4,400 North American locations, early estimates showed Friday. That’s well above the $100 million launch that Disney was forecasting for the sequel, which will provide a much-needed jolt to the moviegoing business. The 2019 North American box office trails last year by [...]

  • The Banker

    Apple Delays 'The Banker' Release Amid Review of Family Accusations

    Apple is delaying the theatrical release of “The Banker,” originally set for Dec. 6 with assistance from Bleecker Street, insiders familiar with the company said. It’s being delayed as the filmmakers review accusations of historical inaccuracy and sexual abuse at the hands of co-producer Bernard Garrett Jr. The film was also set to premiere on [...]

  • Alex Ginno Fully Formed

    Brad Fuller and Andrew Form's Fully Formed Taps Alex Ginno as Head of Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alex Ginno has joined Brad Fuller and Andrew Form’s Fully Formed as head of film. The company has a three-year first-look deal with Paramount, where they recently wrapped production on “A Quiet Place: Part II” and are currently prepping Season 3 of the hit show “Jack Ryan” for Amazon. The second season recently bowed, with [...]

  • Queen and Slim soundtrack

    Album Review: 'Queen & Slim: The Soundtrack'

    “Queen & Slim,” the film, traffics in sudden tragedy and symbolic terror as it portrays the violence of self-defense and self-awareness in stark, painful terms. It deserves an equally audacious score and soundtrack, a job that has gone to another Devonté Hynes, the British singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer and director in his guise of Blood [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Music Biopic in the Works From 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King has struck a deal with the Michael Jackson estate for the pop star’s life and music rights, with plans to make a feature film based on both. King has tapped “Gladiator” and “The Aviator” screenwriter John Logan for the project. The film currently has no studio or distributor attached. The [...]

  • Michael J. Pollard Dead

    Michael J. Pollard, 'Bonnie and Clyde' and 'House of 1000 Corpses' Actor, Dies at 80

    Academy Award nominee Michael J. Pollard, known for his roles in “Bonnie and Clyde” and “House of 1000 Corpses,” has died. He was 80. “House of 1000 Corpses” director Rob Zombie broke the news on Facebook early Friday morning. “We have lost another member of our ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ family. I woke up to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content