Saturday, May 18, 2013

Capsule Film Reviews: Posse

Posse, directed by Mario Van Peebles, has everything a non-growing 18 to 49 year old boy could want. It's got bullets, blood, brutality, barbarity, braggadocio, buddies, booze, and finally babes and their boobs and their buts. Posse is an R rated action adventure revenge film with a difference, however. Its anti-hero damaged man hero Jessie Lee (Mario Van Peebles) is Black.

Posse begins with our anti-hero hero in Cuba fighting the Spanish-American war. He has been impressed, re-enslaved, so to speak, sent by sheriff, judge, and jury, to serve under a racist Confederate loving colonel (Billy Zane) who walks around in Confederate grey with Rebel regalia replaced by that of the United States and acts like a combination big plantation owner and Wild West judge, jury, and executioner. Colonel Graham sends Jessie and his motley group of mostly black soldiers, on what we viewers think is a suicide mission behind enemy lines. It is really a mission to capture a chest of gold from the Spanish troops. Long story short, Jessie and his gang take the gold for themselves, escape the colonel, his loyal flunkies, and Cuba for New Orleans and eventually America's Western frontier. The Colonel, this is a revenge film after all, chases Jessie and his band of brothers to New Orleans and then to the Western frontier town of Freemanville.

Freemanville, it turns out, and this is where Posse is one of those rare Hollywood Westerns, was built by King David (Robert Hooks), Jessie's preacher father, who has led his people West to build a town where Blacks can gain freedom, freedom through education. White racists, however, can't leave Freemanville alone. They attack the town where they crucify King David and send Jessie off to war.

Jessie has returned to the Wild West, gold bullets and gun in hand, to take revenge on those who killed his father and sent him to war. This being a late twentieth century Hollywood payback film with lot of the standard vivid and brutal violence and a lot of the fairy tale in it, Jessie takes revenge on those from Cutterstown who killed his father and sent him to war, defeats Colonel Graham and his minions who follow him to Freemanville, kills Freemanville's Black Marshall (Blair Underwood) who is in cahoots with the White racist sheriff of Cutterstown (Richard Jordan) and his KKK troglodytes to acquire as much Freemanville land as possible because the railroad is coming through, and gets the beautiful girl he was forced to leave behind (Salli Richardson) and who the Marshall wants to marry, all after a suitably bloody and lengthy final battle.

Posse is one of those Hollywood movies where the bad guys are really bad and the good guys are a little bad just like viewers apparently want them. It is one of those typical Hollywood action adventure films in which we are hit over the head both verbally and visually again and again to make sure we get the point the film is trying to make. But it is also a film that wants to make several revisionist historical points. There were Black cowboys in the West, many of them. There were Black towns in the West. There were "grandfather clauses", laws which prohibited Blacks whose grandfathers were slaves from voting, particularly though not exclusively in the post-Reconstruction South, and which were also, until they were found unconstitutional by Supreme Court, in 1915, used to dis-empower Blacks. These grandfather clauses would also be used to take the land and dis-empower Mexican Americans in the Southwest and America's natives in Oklahoma.

I, Ron, eek gives Posse a little of this and a little of this. On one level Posse is a typical paint by the numbers late twentieth century action adventure film where the character and visual clich├ęs come fast a furious from the stock villains with crazed look in their eyes and crazed craziness in their voices to horses jumping out of train cars and the sepia quality of the cinematography. There's even a little bit of Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954). On another level Posse is a little of that. Its revisionism is a welcome if not so fresh addition to the typical Hollywood genre formula. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford, 1962), Cheyenne Autumn (John Ford, 1964), Roots (ABC, 1977) Dancing with Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990), and Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996) all brought revisionism, American Indian revisionism and Mexican American revisionism, to the big screen and small screen before Posse. Posse doesn't do it, in my opinion, anywhere near as well as the revisionist films I have listed above and which certainly don't exhaust the cross genre category, particularly The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Lone Star. Still if any of this is your cup of tea check it out.

Posse, 1993, Gramercy, Polygram, MGM, (many others), directed by Mario Van Peebles, written by Sy Richardson and Dario Scardapane, 2:32:1

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