Being around a decade after the end of the Civil War, the United States is in a state of flux. It is still trying to heal and rebuild from the horrors of the war. The deep division inflicted. Outlaws have used this breakdown to take root across the country.
African Americans have become part of the social fabric…in some regards. As such, they now hold the occasional position of power. Even in government. The first African American senator, Benjamin Burke (Tony Todd – Candyman), hires detective Mathias Breecher (Kevin Makely – appeared in episodes of Kingdom and Desperate Housewives) to uncover the bottom of the barrel of the Confederate war criminals.
Breecher does this alone, just using his brains and his gunslinging skills. His hunt takes him all across the Old West. While after one particular man he comes across a pioneer woman called Sarah Cooke (Mira Sorvino – Mighty Aphrodite, Gods and Generals), who is taking care of her family’s land alone as her father Reginald (Bruce Dern – The Hateful Eight, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) is deathly ill. The two get tangled up and find themselves in a rather dangerous position.
Westerns have long been a favourite of film fans. The genre brings together many elements of film we like. Great cinematography. Action. Tension. Love stories. Man triumphing against odds stacked against him. As a film genre it has a long history with plenty of great films and iconic actors/performances. Films like Unforgiven, High Noon, The Good, the Bad and The Ugly, and True Grit (2010). Film stars like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Gary Cooper. This film, directed and written by Justin Lee (Any Bullet Will Do, A Reckoning), does not find itself in that category.
It is risky to make a Western. Especially as an American filmmaker. There are so many expectations heaped upon a film of this genre because of the particular fondness many in that country feel for Westerns. They feel like they are the torch bearers for the Old West. Have such a romantic view towards that era in their country, that it is hard to live up to it. As such, as a filmmaker, you better be sure to have a strong story and solid cast. Nothing like that can be said here.
Despite using plenty of the usual tropes of the genre (silent, but appealing anti-hero, a woman in peril, an underdog fight against evil types, etc.) Badlands stumbles. And hard. Falling pretty much flat on its face. Despite the fact that you have some known actors here like Sorvino and Dern, the cast is rather weak. Maybe I am being harsh towards the actors and maybe their lack of punch is due to the overwhelming amount of cliches found within the film. Whatever the case, this is not a film which will go down in the best of lists of the genre.