Westerns were a staple of movies since they started. For decades Hollywood cranked out hundreds of A and B grade westerns that played in movie theaters around the world. Today though westerns are a dying genre. Very few are made anymore, and those that are often fail at the box office. That was why I was both surprised and excited to see Nate and the Colonel turn up in my mailbox. An independent small budget western. Would it be as good as some of the classic movies of the genre, or just serve as another example of why the genre is dead? It turns out that the movie falls between those two extremes.
Near the end of the Civil War, Colonel Ben Loftin (played by writer/director Paul Winters) and his men ambush a shipment of union god being guarded by Major J. T. Haskell (producer Carlos Milano, who has the dumbest looking fake beard I've even seen in a film.) Loftin also steals the Major's boots, which makes it personal for Haskell. Nearly a year passes, and the war ends. Without knowing so much as his name, Haskell somehow tracks down the Colonel who stole "his" gold. He arrives at Loftin's house, but his quarry isn't there. In a fit of pique, Haskell kills Loftin's wife. When Loftin returns and finds his wife dead, he vows to avenge her death and sets off after Haskell who has just left for the wild west. His childhood friend and ex-slave, Nate (Ricco Ross,) accompanies him. Though they don't realize it, they change their destiny when they encounter a dying Indian, Standing Elk (Al Harrington) and save his life. But while they track Haskell, the soldier is tracking them. Killing Loftin's wife wasn't enough. Haskell still carries a grudge and wants to hunt Loftin down.
There are some good scenes in this movie that make it enjoyable to watch. They are often small bits, like when Nate offers the wounded Standing Elk some of his beef jerky, or the way Nate sings while he's digging for gold. Unfortunately the movie has trouble stringing these scenes together. The script is the weakest element of the film. There are a lot of plot holes and amazing coincidences that make the movie as a whole a little hard to swallow. It starts with Nate following his ex-master out west for no real reason. Not that this couldn't have happened, but it seems a little improbable. Loftin treats Nate, a man that he used to own, with dignity and respect, even telling him in one scene that Nate needn't always cook and clean. "You ain't a slave no more." he says. A very surprising sentiment for an ex-officer of the confederacy.
Paul Winters did an adequate job of playing the main character, but the standout in the cast was Ricco Ross. He played the ex-slave with just right demeanor and personality. He was proud, but still recognized that he still wasn't equal. Ricco's acting was one of the highlights of the film.
Another aspect of the film that needs to be mentioned is the cinematography.
This movie looked wonderful, with some great shots of the American west.
I love westerns that show great vistas and majestic scenery, and this one
did. The one thing that did take away from that was some of the purposely
jerky hand held camera work. This became a little annoying in a few
scenes, like when the Indians capture Loftin and Nate.
The stereo soundtrack was very effective and sounded pretty good. The dialog was easy to understand and the music was strong. The smaller noises like the wind blowing through the trees came through clearly. There wasn't any signs of distortion or hiss. There are optional subtitles in Spanish but not in English.
The widescreen image wasn't anamorphically enhanced, but was otherwise adequate. This movie looks like it was filmed on digital video tape, as there is a good amount of aliasing which becomes distracting at times. Aside from this defect, the movie looks fine. The image is a little soft and slightly indistinctive in places, but the colors are deep and accurate. Nothing to write home about, but still an acceptable picture.
There is a commentary with director/director/actor Paul Winters and producer/actor Carlos Milano. This was a standard commentary where they talk about filming the movie, relate anecdotes about the actors and comment about what is shown on the screen. One interesting thing that they mentioned is that before they shot the film, they pitched several ideas to various distributors and this movie received the best reaction. Since westerns haven't been popular in decades, I was surprised that the distributors would be interested in such a picture.
There is also a three minute behind the scenes reel.
Overall, this isn't a bad film. The main problem is a script that is sloppy in parts. There are a few too many coincidences throughout the film, and too many things go unexplained (like how Loftin knows that Haskell killed his wife.) The acting was strong overall, and the location shots looked great. Nate and the Colonel is well worth checking out. Rent It.