AWARD THIS! 2023 NOMINEE! Rest assured, westerns are alive and well, and indie filmmakers proudly lead the charge. This is particularly true with Isaiah Washington’s Corsicana, which tells the story of a true-life hero, Bass Reeves. Washington plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, a black man with a tragic past who hunted down over two thousand criminals throughout his illustrious career.
Reeves is a feared lawman at the tail end of his career. His wife, Jennie (Stacey Dash), urges him to stay home, fearing that he will never come home this time. Reeves, though, has a higher calling, a responsibility… and a bounty… is too big to pass up.
The target this time around is the ruthless Jack Donner (Lew Temple) and his gang. They have been moving across Corsicana, murdering farmers and their families for the oil-rich land. After stumbling upon a little boy, the lone survivor of Donner’s recent attack, Reeves brings the boy to local pastor Sam Tanner (Jason Johnson), who happens to be his former partner-turned-fugitive. Reeves convinces Tanner to join him on the hunt for Donner as a form of repentance for his past. The final member of the team is the man known as California (Hank Slaughter), who put his reputation on the line to help Reeves during the Civil War.
Corsicana shows the power that indie filmmakers have to make any genre without the need of a big studio breathing down their necks. As a result, the film has two major set pieces — the convincer that Jack Donner is a bad man and the final gunfight in the end. The first act features Donner’s brutal slaying of a farmer’s family. It starts with the confrontation with the farmer’s wife (rifle in hand) and her children by her side. Next is the farmer’s futile attempt to take down the gang. It ends with their demise, which involves dismemberment — the tamest part of the evening.
“…Bass Reeves, a black man with a tragic past who hunted down over two thousand criminals throughout his illustrious career.”
That said, Director Washington is able to bring out the worst emotions of this encounter. He does so without ever showing anything in any real detail and, in the end, establishes that the Donner gang is a real threat and not to be messed with. This brilliant and nuanced cinematic storytelling continues throughout, especially when exploring the characters.
The second act is where the drama comes in. There is a broken friendship that needs to be mended before the group can take on Donner, but this reconciliation requires more than a quick apology. The character development of not only Reeves and Tanner are explored but also the members of the Donner gang. Each member has their own identity that plays an important role in the outcome.
Speaking of the final battle. It has everything genre fans want — gun fights, a well-thought-out plan to take down the bad guy, and that moment when the plan fails. In this way, Corsicana feels like a true Western. We’ve got grand vistas, beautiful horse rides across the plains and grass fields, and not a hint the film was shot not-so-long ago. Yes, film buffs will figure out a few of the filmmaking hacks to pull this off on a modest budget, but the director still makes them effective.
Though Corsicana didn’t have the budget of, say, The Magnificent Seven (more like The Not-That-Bad Seven), Isaiah Washington is still able to bring an exciting western to the big screen. In doing so, he honors the little-known hero of that time, Bass Reeves. This independent film is worth seeking out for anyone looking for a good action or Western tale.
For screening information, visit the Corsicana official website. Corsicana is a 2023 Award This! Indie Action/Thriller nominee.
"…westerns are alive and well, and indie filmmakers proudly lead the charge."