Hell on the Border Image

Hell on the Border

By Alan Ng | January 2, 2020

Hell On The Border is essentially two things: a standard western and a research paper we could title, “Former Slaves of the South and the Post-Civil War Expansion West.” As a western, the film has everything you’d expect: gunfights, horses, a few sticks of dynamite, and the good, the bad, and those in between. The story is the basic tale about those who live under the weight of the law, and those who write the laws out of self-service. It appears anyone can get a badge but rarely are these men ever about seeking justice.

Then there’s the racial element, which pushes the stereotypes to the extreme. White people are either the bad guys or just bad in general. The ones that appear to be righteous and sympathetic are only out of their self-interests to live another day. Perlman’s Charles Storm helps Reeves, but his continual use of the n-word leads to an interesting “disagreement” mid-way through the film. It’s one of the film’s memorable moments. I get the point the film is trying to make, but the general white people bad/POC good perspective doesn’t play unless there’s an honest attempt two show some middle ground. Instead, it feels like an ethic lesson.

“…the underdog overcoming insurmountable odds…David Gyasi, as Bass Reeves, is excellent…”

Where the film works and successfully sets it apart from other westerns is how writer/director Miller lays out post-Civil War America. Our protagonist Bass Reeves is the lone principled man in the West. In one exchange, Sixkiller confronts Reeves saying, “I never thought of you as a lawman.” Reeves responds, “The law put me in chains, and the law set me free.” In an age of injustice and lawlessness, Reeves still holds to a foundational principle of right and wrong.

When it’s all said and done, this is a western, albeit a low budget one, which may account for the lack of sweeping vistas and cinematic camera angles. It does have that necessary element of the underdog overcoming insurmountable odds from everyone from every direction. David Gyasi, as Bass Reeves, is excellent as the lead protagonist. The moments where he stands up for his principles and America’s too is convincing, especially coming from an action star. Ron Perlman is always a bright spot on the screen in everything and there’s no sign of him phoning it in.

Hell On The Border tells a unique western-style story. Not quite like The Mandalorian, but unique in its place in history. Inspired by Reeves, but clearly not attempting to recount the real story in any way. It’s merely a fun western and should be seen as that.

Hell on the Border (2019)

Directed and Written: Wes Miller

Starring: David Gyasi, Ron Perlman, Frank Grillo, Zahn McClarnon, Manu Intiraymi, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Hell on the Border Image

"…just ten years after the end of slavery in the U.S....what was happening with the newly freed slaves."

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