Posse (1993) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mario Van Peebles
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 111 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo surround English; Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo French, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Review Date: June 11, 2011
Setting the historical record straight about the significance of African-American cowboys in the West following the Civil War is no excuse for Mario Van Peebles to fashion such a slapdash mixture of spaghetti western and social protest movie with some side trips to various bordellos and water holes for some frolicsome fun and tied up with a vengeance motif with more villains than three average movies. And never let it be said that he explores nuances of characters and situations as the film’s broad, bold strokes, even with its emphasis on its black protagonists, offer nothing really new but rather only a been there-done that tone that the director and screenwriters can’t manage to circumvent. The writers and director have the best of intentions with this movie but not the ultimate skill to pull it off as successfully as more experienced hands might have done.
Ordered on a suicide mission for the 10th Cavalry in Cuba in 1898, Jessie Lee (Mario Van Peebles) and his squad stumble onto a huge gold shipment which his arrogant commanding officer Colonel Graham (Billy Zane) had expected to be his. Escaping from their certain doom, the group ends up in New Orleans where quick-thinking Little J (Stephen Baldwin), talkative Weezie (Charles Lane), the huge but tender-hearted Obobo (Tiny Lister Jr.) and later gambler Father Time (Big Daddy Kane) join together in attempting to forge a new path for themselves out west while eluding the continual stalking of Colonel Graham. It later becomes clear that Jessie Lee is seeking revenge on the men responsible for stringing up his father (Melvin Van Peebles) while hiding under Ku Klux Klan robes. Jessie knows their identities and is especially anxious to hunt down the leader of the Klan, now a sheriff (Richard Jordan) who not only wants control of his own Cutter's Town but of the neighboring mostly black Freemansville township, too, which sits right on prime land that the railroad will eventually want for their overland line.
It’s very clear watching Posse that screenwriters Sy Richardson and Dario Scardapane aren’t very skilled at the construction of plot where dramatic conflicts build to a climax. The narrative here goes through so many changes in tempo and mood and with a scattershot series of storylines that could be the genesis of three or four separate films. Here, crammed into one movie, their impact is blunted to say the least, and Van Peebles’ direction offers no more than a serviceable adaptation of their stories and no solutions to the film’s many inconsistencies (which include anachronistic dialogue, costumes, and hairstyles). He seems fondest of shooting people from below with the camera pointing into their faces though some off-balanced camera angles also come and go for no good reason. By placing himself as the center of attention and making sure he has the most form fitting, muscle exposing costume and most intense love scene, the director seems oblivious to his film’s other needs: more consistent pacing, more authentic dialogue, and action scenes that not only emphasize gore but also have some sense of reality. The sepia-tinged flashbacks that come and go until we get the real reason for Jessie Lee’s travel west may offer some sense of style to the movie, but the shameless borrowing from The Magnificent Seven which climaxes the film’s last half hour along with the final villain’s inevitable rise from the dead for one more attack shows writers and director on autopilot.
Mario Van Peebles’ performance is in the strong but silent mode a la Eastwood in his Leone films, but he doesn’t quite have the swagger or authority to pull it off. It might have been better if he had cast one of his villains, the charismatic Blair Underwood, as Jessie Lee since Underwood brings style and panache to all of his scenes despite the clichéd nature of his role. Of the posse, Stephen Baldwin makes the strongest impression as the wily fox hiding behind a gold-toothed grin that deceives suckers into thinking he’s a simpleton. Tiny Lister Jr. is also quite good as the tough muscleman with a heart of gold. Charles Lane’s chatterbox Weezie is irritating early on though the constant talk does dissipate as the film runs. Having played a parade of villains and psychopaths, Richard Jordan offers no new strings to his bow though Billy Zane’s obnoxious colonel uses his fake southern charm to mask his rotten core pretty well. As the chief love interest shared between Underwood and Van Peebles, Salli Richardson is lovely but limited by an underwritten role. Van Peebles has loaded the film with familiar faces even though most of them are given only the briefest of moments in the spotlight. Among the most notable are Pam Grier, Isaac Hayes, Robert Hooks, Paul Bartel, Stephen J. Cannell, Nipsey Russell, Reginald VelJohnson, and Woody Strode as the man who relates the entire tale.
The Panavision 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Overall, picture quality is mostly stunning with superb sharpness and usually excellent contrast leading to a very detailed and appealing image. Flesh tones are natural and well delivered while color is also deeply saturated without seeming unnatural. Black levels are decidedly deep and impressive. Apart from a scratch and some minor banding, the image quality is really first-rate. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo surround track is tremendously exhilarating. There is outstanding presence in the front and rear surrounds and frequent pans across and especially through the soundstage give the feel of great depth to the presentation. Bass is also impressive in this mix though the music and effects occasionally overwhelm the dialogue which has been routed to the center channel.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs 2 ¼ minutes.
2.5/5 (not an average)
Mario Van Peebles had the noblest of intentions with Posse, presenting a historical fiction stressing the all-but-ignored black cowboy in turn of the century America, but his film is scattershot and diffuse, succeeding in bits and pieces rather than as a whole. The Blu-ray, however, presents the film in its best possible light which fans will be quite impressed with to be sure.