Hell On The Border, 2019.
Directed by Wes Miller.
Starring David Gyasi, Frank Grillo, Ron Perlman, Rudy Youngblood, Manu Intiraymi and Gianni Capaldi.
This epic, action-packed Western tells the incredible true story of Bass Reeves (David Gyasi), the first black marshal in the Wild West. Having escaped from slavery after the Civil War, he arrives in Arkansas seeking a job with the law. To prove himself, he must hunt down a deadly outlaw (Frank Grillo) with the help of a grizzled journeyman (Ron Perlman). As he chases the criminal deeper into the Cherokee Nation, Reeves must not only dodge bullets, but severe discrimination in hopes of earning his star—and cement his place as a cowboy legend.
The Western may be a well worn genre, as weathered as the leather on a Cowboys saddle, but that’s not to say there still aren’t interesting stories to tell. Not least, there’s a wealth of historic Old West stories that can be adapted. Hell On The Border manages to find such an engaging figure in Bass Reeves.
All historic liberties aside, Bass Reeves’ tale is brought to life by writer/director Wes Miller. Reeves was the first black Deputy US Marshall West of the Mississippi. Whilst slavery had been abolished, there were still huge divides and firm attitudes to the place of a black person in society. So in Hell On The Border, Miller focuses on Reeves and his rise from Posse-man to being put forward by Judge Isaac Parker as a Deputy Marshall (given Reeves’ proficiency with guns, and his ability to communicate with the Indians). When he’s initially turned back (due to illiteracy) he sets about bringing notorious outlaw Bob Dozier to justice to prove himself.
Miller successfully makes an engaging Western with an interesting protagonist. The film is further aided by a stellar cast. David Gyasi is excellent as Reeves injecting a quiet charisma and intelligence to the role. As Dozier, Frank Grillo brings the requisite villainy to the part, but with a degree of charm, something he does extremely well. Grillo is productive of late, always a great bad guy, but becoming something of a reliable (late blooming) action star. Ron Perlman, who is always great to watch is in inspired form. Elsewhere there’s great work from Manu Intiraymi, Rudy Youngblood and Gianni Capaldi delivers his best work yet as Tom Pinkerton.
There’s a nice leaning toward proper practical effects over CGI gun blasts (which populate almost every other low budget western in recent times) and some nice cinematography from Michael Brouphy. Whilst the basic template doesn’t offer anything out of the ordinary for the genre (lawman chases notorious outlaw), the film is well made, and the central protagonist offers enough difference to give it some fresh impetus.
On the negative side, the film might have benefited from tightening in places to bring a more lithe run time whilst the music becomes overbearing in places (though the score itself is engaging, its placement and levels are sometimes unnecessary and/or too high).
Western fans will find a lot to enjoy in this well crafted film and a story that surprisingly hasn’t been adapted more prominently before. Gyasi’s quiet gravitas and the excellent supporting cast bring an engaging story to life.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has several features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019/2020, including Cyber Bride and Scarecrow’s Revenge both available on Prime. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/