Posse (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 11, 2011 by Dennis Amith
An action-packed western and actor/director/writer Mario Van Peebles tribute to the African-Americans of the Old West.
Images courtesy of © 1993 Orion Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1993
DURATION: 111 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1), English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French Dolby Surround, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French
RATED: R (Strong violence and Sexuality and For Language)
COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Twentieth Century Fox
RELEASE DATE: June 7, 2011
Directed by Mario Van Peebles
Written by Sy Richardson, Dario Scardapane
Producer: Preston L. Holmes, Jim Steele
Executive Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Co-Executive Producer: Bill Fishman, Paul Webster
Co-Producer: Jim Fishman
Associate Producer: James Bigwood
Music by Michel Colombier
Cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr.
Edited by Mark Conte, Seth Flaum
Casting by Pat Golden
Production Design by Catherine Hardwicke
Art Direction by Kim Hix
Set Decoration by Tessa Posnansky
Costume Design by Paul Simmons
Mario Van Peebles as Jesse Lee
Stephen Baldwin as Jimmy J. “Little J” Teeters
Charles Lane as Weezie
Tommy “Tiny” Lister as Obobo
Big Daddy Kane as Father Time
Billy Zane as Colonel Graham
Blair Underwood as Carver
Melvin Van Peebles as Papa Joe
Sallie Richardson-Whitfield as Lana
Tone Loc as Angel
Pam Grier as Phoebe
Vesta Williams as Vera
Isaac Hayes as Cable
Richard Jordan as Sheriff Bates
Paul Bartel as Mayor Bigwood
Stephen J. Cannell as Jimmy Love
Richard Edson as Deputy Tom
Nipsey Russell as Snopes
Reginald VelJohnson as Preston
In 1892, a group of mostly black infantrymen, betrayed by their white commander, Colonel Graham (Zane), desert the Spanish-American War. With Graham hot on their trail, Jessie Lee (Van Peebles) leads the men to his hometown, Freemanville, only to find it’s also besieged by war – a racist war!
It is an untold story, how African-Americans, many of them who were former slaves or children of slaves, were given freedom before and after the Civil War, became pioneers and looking and searching for territory west of the Mississippi River.
Because of racism at the time and poor record keeping, not much has been written in official documents or books about the Black settlers of the Old West. The truth is that many were unable to vote because their parents were slaves who could not vote. Many could not own land because Whites did not recognize Blacks as owners of land. Also, the Whites prevented Blacks from succeeding by shutting down any schools for education to prevent Blacks from succeeding in society.
Many Black settlers at the time left the south in hopes that they can establish themselves in the west. Unlike many White men, the African Americans were able to have communication with the Native American tribes. And while some were able to become rich and have a good lifestyle (especially those who worked in gold mines back in the 1850’s), not all were fortunate.
Fortunately, in the old west, you have documents and photos of Black cowboys such as Nat Love, Bill Pickett, Bose Ikard, Bass Reeves and a few others. But the fact is, not much is known about these cowboys, not much is known about African-American’s role in the old west, may it be for business or those who help build log cabins or even the railroad and because of this, actor/director/writer Mario Van Peebles set out to create a western featuring primarily African-Americans.
Mario Van Peebles plays the character of Jesse Lee, a member of the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers who are fighting in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Outgun and outmatched by the Spaniard’s weaponry, no matter how Jesse tries to explain to the racist and corrupt Colonel Graham (played by Billy Zane) of their problems on the warfront and how they need to pull back, Graham doesn’t want to hear any of it.
But Colonel Graham does order Jesse to shoot a deserter in exchange for the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers to retreat. But Jesse Lee is not the type to shoot a unarmed man in cold blood and shoots only his cigar. Graham kills the deserter on his own and offers another prisoner named Little J (played by Stephen Baldwin) to take Jesse Lee’s command of the 10th Cavalry or else face the firing squad. So, Little J takes the job!
So, Graham orders the 10th Cavalry to go on a new mission, to dress up in civilian clothing and to stop a group of Spaniards. For Little J and Jesse Lee, they are on a mission but in truth, what the 10th Calvary was sent to do, by Col. Graham, is rob a Spanish gold shipment and be implicated for the robbery. Jesse realizes they have been set up and when they try to escape with the money, they are ambushed by Col. Graham and his fellow men.
Fortunately, Col. Graham’s African-American aide named Weezie (played by Charles Lane) manages to provide a distraction and the 10th Calvary are able to be part of a shootout which Jesse thinks that he has killed the corrupt Col. Graham.
The surviving members of the Calvary end up taking Weezie with them, as he knows how to get them out of Cuba and that is to play dead and become cargo on the ship back to the United States.
As the members of the 10th Calvary which consists of Jesse Lee, Little J, Angel (played by Ton Loc), Charles Lane Obobo (played by Tom Lister, Jr.) and Weezie have pulled off the impossible and have the Spanish gold in their possession, the men could live like kings! As the group brings in another member named Father Time (played by Big Daddy Kane), Jesse Lee plans his mission and that is to get revenge on the White men (corrupt officials who are part of the KKK) who burned the school down in his village and killed his father.
Throughout the film, we get to learn that Jesse Lee was the son of a wise man who wanted to bring education to the Blacks of Freedomville. And as they built an education of learning, the Blacks were attacked and Jesse’s father was beaten, the school was burned down and his father’s corpse was hung up on what was left of the school by the KKK as a lesson for Blacks to not create any schools. This memory and the murder of his father and the beating he had endured has become his goal in life, to exact revenge on the men who killed his father.
So, Jesse leaves the surviving members of the 10th Calvary now known as the “Posse” who are having fun gambling, being rich, getting drunk and having fun in New Orleans, what they don’t know is that Col. Graham is very much alive and now he and a few of his soldiers want to make sure they are dead (and also get a hold of their gold).
While not all are able to survive in their fight against Col. Graham and his men, the surviving members of the Posse join Jesse Lee, not knowing his past or his goal, but have been with him long enough to know his fighting prowess and leadership, and now the posse are willing to join him all the way. May it be against the KKK, crooked officials or Col. Graham and his men.
“Posse” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1). The good news is that “Posse” looks much, much better than its DVD counterpart. You can see the detail and clarity of people’s faces, clothing and objects much more clearly on Blu-ray. The bad news is that I did detect some artifacting and banding during the scenes that do show a lot of red and a lot of blue.
Fortunately, these scenes are quite short and shouldn’t hamper one’s viewing at all. But for the most part, for an early ’90s films, the picture quality is very good and a much better video presentation than its DVD counterpart.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Posse” is presented in English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French Dolby Surround. The film is primarily a front-channel driven soundtrack, so knowing that the film does have its fair share of action-sequences and gun fights, I chose to have my receive set for stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundtrack.
But while testing it on its original settings, the dialogue is clear, the action-sequences with the gattling gun, dynamite explosions and frequent gunshots were crystal clear but I prefer action films to be in 5.1 or higher and thus, I had to switch my receiver settings to make things more immersive.
Subtitles are English SDH, Spanish and French.
“Posse” comes with its original theatrical trailer.
There is no doubt that Mario Van Peebles wanted to create a western film utilizing African-Americans but also paying tribute to the unknown African-American settlers but also the challenges they faced back in the late 1800’s.
What van Peebles was able to capture was how Black’s were utilized in the military as gun fodder (this was no different from what took place in the Civil War with Black Union soldiers) but to also use his movie as a way to inform people that many Black settlers lost their lives by trying to defend their land and territory, trying to confront the challenge of not being acknowledged of their territory by Whites who were building railroad stations and looked at profit of taking over land owned by Blacks for the sake of profit.
So, in that sense, I was quite intrigued by “Posse”. But as Mario van Peebles was keeping things politically correct in the sense of the historic, factual information of the film, we are given a group of characters who are more or less, conventional characters. Jesse Lee is your action-star with great shooting skills, while Stephen Baldwin as Little J is the white man who joins to help the Posse and manages to befriend them and despite them being Black, he could care less. He is willing to join them no matter what.
Acting is pretty rough as Tone Loc plays Angel who seems like he is playing himself ala circa-1993 more than playing a character from the 1800’s. The hulking Tom Lister, Jr. who is typically feared in films because of his appearance but in “Posse” is more of an emotional guy who is often scared and often upset when people make fun of his eye or his penis.
As a fan of Big Daddy Kane, back in the early ’90s, it was great to see BDK in a film as he is one of the most influential rappers of all time and I still feel the same today. His character of Father Time is stoic, silent but you know he can be deadly if the time calls for it. Surprisingly, after 1993, I was surprised to see that he hasn’t done much in terms of acting for nearly 15-years, as he is now doing more acting today. But it was great to see him in the film!
“Posse” also features a good number of talent with Charles Lane as Weezie, Billy Zane as Colonel Graham, Blair Underwood as Carver, Salli Richardson-Whitfield as Lana, Pam Grier as Phoebe, Isaac Hayes as Cable and many more!
While I enjoyed the film back in 1993, watching it today, as much as I admired what Mario van Peebles did in trying to pay tribute to the Black men and women of the Old West, the film is more or less a popcorn action film that tries to show political correctness by educating audiences on the challenges of Blacks during that time. It’s obvious van Peebles was focusing on the action and not going for historical accuracy in terms of the film’s character depictions. But in the case of a western, you expect action and because the “Posse” is a wanted bunch, it definitely made for an interesting, fast-paced, popcorn action film.
But I do feel that we need more films, deeper, serious films that show us of the challenges of men and women during that era.
Similar to how Edward Zwick would do with “Glory” (1989) with the soldiers who fought in the Civil War and what Spike Lee was able to accomplish with “Miracle at St. Anna” in regards to the Black soldiers and pilots who fought in World War II, I would love to watch a story about the early Black settlers or the original African-American cowboys. There is not much know about the Black settlers during that day. Fortunately, there are documents online, including photos for those looking for it but it would be great to have a movie that would educate people of today.
As for the Blu-ray release, unfortunately, it’s another catalog release with only the theatrical trailer as its main special feature. I will say that the picture and audio quality is much better than its older MGM DVD release and if you enjoyed the film before, it’s definitely worth upgrading to Blu-ray!
Overall, “Posse” may not be the best western film but I did welcome the fact that Mario van Peebles used the film to help educate people on the challenges that Black settlers have faced and for a popcorn action-film, it was an exciting and fun film. Just don’t expect anything too deep when it comes to the plot as it is quite conventional, but still “Posse” is a film worth checking out!
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