Redemption: A Mile from Hell
There are a lot of possible genres for film out there. Since the late thirties when cinema became a mainstream form of entertainment film makers have employed every conceivable variation of the classic genres. It would seem that they would be out of ideas by now but just when you think a type of film has been fully explored someone with a new twist comes along. This is the case for one of the most venerable genres around, the western. In the typical western there is a stark polarization between the good guys and bad guys. In the westerns of my childhood it was simple to tell which was which bay the color of their hats; white for the heroes and black for the villains. Now, it is not that simple. There have been morally ambiguous westerns before but there was still a modicum of separation between good and evil. This time honored rule has been broken with the latest western offered for DVD release; ‘Redemption: A Mile from Hell’. Here being a bad guy is just a matter of degree and far from an absolute. Most of the themes presented here have been shown many times before. The twist that this movie gives to the audience is the intensity employed. Like many independent movies this one is depending on its home theater release to gain its audience. Fortunately at this time the stigma of direct to video is much less than previous years. The internet and direct to video releases are now an acceptable means to get your work out before the people. Naturally this works best with films that appeal too a younger demographic. In this case the DVD and Blu-ray release is being handled by North American Motion Pictures. I do admit that I haven’t seen a lot of their catalog; in fact I only know of one other release under this banner, a little horror flick. In any case it looks like they are off to a fairly good start with bringing interesting variations of the classics to your home.
The film was written and directed by Robert Conway. He has one previous work in both fields, a short western. At least he is sticking to a genre to get the hang of it. It has to be difficult to break with tradition on such a well known format of movie. The audience has come to expect being able to readily identify which characters are to be cheered and which to jeer. What stands out here is the way fashion in which Conway aptly handles the matter of presenting a character in shades of grey. There are no clear cut lines in the moral stance of the characters. Each has a dark and checkered past that comes up to haunt them. Writing a story with a lack of definitive archetypes adds a degree of difficult and for a new comer to both screenplays and direction due credit must be given to the man. He does make some missteps along the way here. There is a loss of the narrative towards the middle of the story that almost threatens to derail the story. Considering the rest of the tale is well constructed this can be attributed to a learning curve that will certainly be rectified with additional experience. What shines here is the way the characters are painted. Conway uses a fine brush that affords the audience a detailed look at the people involved in the story. There is a sense of them belonging to the time and place which helps the audience get into the plot. Since none of the characters are particularly admirable this is vital to the success of the script. I truly look forward to whatever Conway comes up with next.
In the director’s chair Conway has a certain visual style that is compelling. This film is a lot bloody that any western I grew up with admittedly that was fifty years ago. Audiences demand much more in the way of realism to their films now and Conway gives it to them. When a man is shot he doesn’t grab his gut and fall. You see the bullet splash through him and the look of pain on his face. The main theme is one you might guess from the title, redemption. The main character is ostensibly a man of the cloth but is almost a legend in the area. He is deadly with the guns that are strapped around his imposing form. Then there is a rustler by trade who is forced to take a stand when people are gunned down by a ruthless killer. This sets up the movie to explore some of the dark motivations in the spectrum of human endeavors. Revenge is a classic plot device especially for a western. Part of the appeal of this time and place in American history is the lack of formal laws. There is a code that people live by and that frequently means taking matters into your own hands. Conway is skilled in the way he taps into this feeling with the audience. You may not like the protagonists but in some dark way you understand them.
The film opens with a touching scene of a young woman lying in bed. A boy leans over her to receive a kiss on his cheek as a voice states that it is time to say goodbye to their mother. Reluctantly another boy comes close to say goodbye. Their mother is on her death bead and assures the boys that she will be looking down on them. Don’t get used to the soft feel presented here; it will not last long. The town of Redemption was once a place where good people spent their lives. It has been taken over by outlaws for whom every day is one of unbridled excess. The town is now a safe heaven for them from the reach of the law. We move through time to a dozen years after the death bed scene. A man is working about a ranch while flashbacks show a scene of masked men killing a cowering family. Frank Harden (Dustin Leighton) is a rustler by trade. He plies his living outside the law and is no stranger to deception. When he becomes involved in a heinous act even he had enough and faces a decision to find someway to track down the ones truly responsible and make them pay, hopefully restoring his reputation in the town. Also roaming around is a man called the Apostle’ (Tom Noga). He exploits are almost mythical in the area. He wears a large cross on his chest between his gun belts and is prone to self flagellation. To see him is to now your death is very near. The main target is a group of former Union soldiers that have become stone cold killers. With this the stage is set for a blood bath.
This is a unique twist on an old genre that shows great promise for the cast and crew. It is blood, brutal and at times difficult to watch but once you give yourself over to the experience you will see something that will captivate you. Conway is a highly visual director and a very good story teller. Give this one a chance.