Legendary Frontier Marshal Gets a Shoddy Western
The Hell at the Border is a biographical western on the legendary US Assistant Marshal Bass Reeves. Born a slave in Arkansas antebellum, Reeves broke racial barriers by becoming the first Black Marshal in the West Mississippi. He was an expert tracker, deadly with firearms, and a staunch defender of the law. Director / Writer Wes Miller accurately describes Reeves' fight to win his badge; but fails to produce a coherent film. The Hell on the Border wastes a veteran cast of Hollywood pillars, has a poor quality edition and a dismal production design. Bass Reeves has a story to tell. The Hell at the Border shines the spotlight on the lawman, but fails in almost every other respect.
David Gyasi ( Carnival Row Interstellar ) plays the role of Bass Reeves. The film opens in 1875 with Reeves as owner in the Indian Territory near Fort Smith, Arkansas. He does the preparatory work to apprehend the drooling cattle thief, Charlie Storm (Ron Perlman), but receives no credit for the bonus. Judge Isaac Parker (Manu Intiraymi) wonders why the Marshal is immaculately clean, but Reeves and his horse are covered in mud. The judge's sister (Ashley Atwood) extols the extraordinary talents of Reeves.
Meanwhile, violent outlaw Frank Dozier (Frank Grillo) and his gang send Judge Parker a bloody message. Parker demands the capture of Dozier, but the marshals of the fort refuse the warrant. They are stunned when Bass Reeves volunteers. No negro should ever wear insignia to chase a white man. Reeves offers an agreement, a promotion to Marshal, if he can bring back or kill Frank Dozier. The other marshals lack courage or camaraderie to accompany Reeves. The imprisoned Charlie Storm offers his services for full grace. Bass Reeves and Charlie Storm launch into the lawless border to find the Dozier gang. Leaving the wife of Reeves (Jaqueline Fleming) take care of their six children and fend off a racist senator (Marshall R. Teague).
The Hell at the Border has critical publishing issues since the beginning. The film is jerky and irregular in its rhythm. There is no cinematic flow to train you in the story. The Hell at the Frontier awkwardly wavers from one scene to the other. This is particularly evident in sequences of erratic actions. There are a lot of guns, but it looks horrible. What should be visually exciting is cut in a disconcerting way. Filmmakers did a terrible job in post-production.
The three main actors do not have enough time to establish chemistry. David Gyasi, Ron Perlman and Frank Grillo have great individual performances, but are clumsy in their overall interactions. Bass Reeves and Charlie Strong are expected to grow together as partners. Their relationship does not take root. They seem incredible; another victim of the low edition.
The settings never hold; the result of poor design of production. Fort Smith, the different towns, and Dozier's outlaw hideaway are dull. Even their journey through the woods is completely banal. Hell at the Border refers to the anarchy between Arkansas and the Indian Territory. This danger is not felt at all. What should be wild and majestic looks like a bunch of trees on a park trail.
The Hell at the Border has a successful appearance that deserves to be acknowledged. The film illuminates the life and adventures of black settlers after the civil war. An opening card clearly indicates that the black cowboy has been erased from American history. Bass Reeves' achievements as a lawyer were historic. He should be as well known as Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock. The Hell at the Frontier gives it at least the respect it deserves. The film is a production of Sweet Unknown Studios and Future Proof Films. It will be available upon request and will have a limited theatrical distribution on December 13th from Lionsgate.
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