That’s a lot of material for a film, and it really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Sure, Badland may not reinvent the wheel. Lee isn’t afraid to steal from the films that influenced him. There’s a particular, distinct whiff of Tarantino, as if Lee studied Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight one too many times, consequently splitting his film into chapters, and infusing it with dialogue like, “A snake is not hard to find when you flip over enough rocks”, or “I would ascertain that the outcome of this situation might be a little different than expected”. If one were to get all nitpicky, there’s plenty to pick at. Composer Jared Forman’s thundering orchestral score drowns the otherwise-relatively-subtle sequences. There are numerous, drawn-out dialogue scenes that could’ve easily been left on the chopping room floor.
“…when the film finds its pacing, it achieves impressive levels of gleeful entertainment.”
Yet, for all its faults, when the film finds its pacing, it achieves impressive levels of gleeful entertainment. There’s a badass fight involving Breecher and a gargantuan Hector (Omid Zader). Cinematographer Idan Menin captures both the wide-open vistas and claustrophobic, “sunlit-through-blinds” settings, so necessary in such Westerns. The performances are decent-to-great. Trace Adkins makes a memorable appearance as General Corbin Dandridge early on (“I assure you, sir. You will not be afforded the courtesy of a pine box,” he growls before drawing his weapon). Bruce Dern never lets down, and here once again delivers a memorable, heartfelt, stoic last plea to Mathias, almost worth the price of admission alone. Mira Sorvino provides the heart of the film, while James Russo and Jeff Fahey ham it up as only Russo and Fahey can. As for Kevin Makely, he makes for a hero that’s easy to root for, even if his performance may be a bit one-note.
Lee’s film never escapes its B-movie roots, nor does it try to, embracing its own pompousness. Breecher’s “redemptive gunslinger” journey imbues the proceedings with a suitably epic feel. The filmmaker even touches upon some interesting topics: a discussion between Breecher and Reginald revolves around justifying murder; a touching scene between Sarah and Reginald fits well with the overarching theme of atoning for one’s past crimes. If you love Westerns as much as Lee clearly does, then holster your guns and venture into this Badland with confidence.
"…holster your guns and venture into this Badland with confidence."