In 1898 Cuba, five Buffalo Soldiers find a gold cache, desert and return to America where they help defend a black town from the KKK, all the while trying to avoid capture by lawmen and military authorities alike.
A group of mostly black infantrymen return from the Spanish-American War with a cache of gold. They travel to the West where their leader searches for the men who lynched his father.Written by
When I heard about and saw the trailers for "Posse" I was eagerly waiting for the film's release. African-Americans made up fully a third of all cowboys in the Old West, but were virtually non-existent in Hollywood's Old West, except as train porters or mammies. The only real black cowboy seen by most Americans was Woody Strode, thanks to John Ford ("Sergeant Rutledge," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "How the West Was Won"), Richard Brooks ("The Professionals") and Italian filmmakers ("Once Upon a Time in the West," "The Revengers," "The Unholy Four").
"Posse," written, produced and directed by Mario Van Peebles, had promise. Unfortunately, it gets bogged down by cliches and a tired storyline. A rousing climax almost saves the film, though.
The movie begins with a stark history lesson about the true accomplishments of blacks in the Old West, as told to Reginald and Warren Hudlin by an old man (the legendary Woody Strode). He then segues into the fictitious story of Jesse Lee...
Lee (Mario Van Peebles) and his men are getting cut to pieces by the Spanish during the Spanish-American War while their commanding officer (a slimy, but effective Billy Zane) drinks Cognac miles away. Lee complains about the conditions and is arrested. Zane later promises to exonerate him and his men if they will pull off a mission for him -- namely to steal valuable documents from the Spanish. Stephen Baldwin is thrown in with Lee's gang because he's a troublemaker Zane wants to get rid of. The group pulls off the mission, but, instead of finding documents, they find gold bullion. They also find Zane and his cohorts waiting at the rendezvous point with guns to finish them off. Unfortunately for Zane, his men are like Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders -- long on bravado, short on skill. Lee's men, having been in combat, get the drop on Zane, kill most of his men and flee back to America as wanted men. (By the way, the method they use to get out of Cuba and back to America is original, but very creepy).
The middle part of the film is spent showing Lee and his men (rapper Tone Loc, Baldwin, a whiny aide and a few spares) heading to New Orleans, where they meet up with Big Daddy Kane. They also run into Zane, who has been tracking them. The whole tracking plotline is hard to believe (remember how long it took John Wayne to track down Natalie Wood in "The Searchers"?), but it makes for good shootouts.
Eventually, Lee and his men make it back to Lee's hometown, a black township full of freedmen. Such townships were numerous in the Old West, but survived only at the whim of white county officials (watch "Rosewood" for an example of what they often suffered from). The town is run by Richard Jordan as a greedy sheriff in cahoots with some crooked county officials. Throw in Zane and his own posse, along with a Gatling gun and you get the rousing climax.
Mario Van Peebles is not much of an actor, but he has enough range and skill to carry the burden of being Jesse Lee. Baldwin is not quite up to par with brothers Alec and Daniel, but he holds his own, especially when he meets his demise at the hands of fellow whites. I liked Big Daddy Kane's soft-spoken, but proud and defiant, role as Father Time and the way he kept looking at his pocket watch before doing anything. Tone Loc was a waste, though, since he kept rapping like it was 1998 instead of 1898.
The town basically had one purpose and that was to show off an impressive cast of black stars -- Melvin Van Peebles, Pam Grier, Reginald Vel Johnson and Nipsey Russell, among others. Of course, having a cameo meant biting the bullet (literally) in the finale.
By the way, another problem for "Posse" was its setting. Many contributions and accomplishments by African-Americans came during the years following the Civil War, from 1865-1890. Black soldiers became the vaunted Buffalo Soldiers who protected white settlers and tracked down Geronimo. Freed blacks moved west in droves as homesteaders and as cowboys on cattle drives because many white men had been killed or maimed during the war. Black townships sprang up in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Black lawmen like the legendary Bass Reeves were in abundance, especially in Oklahoma and Texas. By 1898, blacks were in a decline (despite their bravery in the Spanish-American War) that would not be reversed until World War I. Surely, Van Peebles could have drawn up a storyline set between 1865 and 1890.
"Posse" has a lot going for it. It's too bad Mario Van Peebles went for cliches, shootouts and tired storylines meant to sell tickets rather than tell a good story. "Unforgiven" and "Tombstone" showed you can do both.
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