Sunday, January 13, 2013

Buck and the Preacher

I found that I needed an antidote to the extreme violence in Tarantino's film, and fortunately, I had a recording of Buck and the Preacher to watch. This is a 1972 film starring Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte; Poitier also directed it. It's a Western set after the Civil War, when many emancipated blacks tried to settle out West, but they were still hunted by racist "nightraiders" and bounty hunters hired by their former slave owners, who hope to force them to return. Poitier plays Buck, a wagonmaster helping to guide the settlers to safe territory. The Preacher meanwhile is a conman who initially intends to rob the settlers of their money, and possibly collect on a $500 reward for the capture of Buck, dead or alive.

Buck runs into the Preacher at first when he's being chased by a posse of men led by DeShay, apparently an ex-military man. Buck has to steal the Preacher's horse so he can get away, but at least he leaves behind his own horse so that the Preacher isn't stranded. When the Preacher rides into the nearest town, DeShay's men recognize the horse and demand information on Buck's whereabouts. The Preacher asks where he can contact DeShay later, if he finds Buck and wants to collect the reward. They tell him where and let him go. The Preacher locates the black settlers by following a young black boy who works in the town but lives elsewhere at the camp. There the Preacher runs into Buck again, and they swap back their horses, but the Preacher insists on hanging around and eyeing the women who keep the group's money hidden. Buck leaves to go negotiate with a local Native American tribe so that the wagon train will have safe passage through their territory. The Preacher follows Buck and is impressed, but when they return to the camp, it's been raided again, and several people are dead, including the young boy; the Preacher now feels guilty and decides to help Buck and the settlers.

Buck and the Preacher go to town to find DeShay's men and steal back the money they took. Unfortunately, most of the money was already spent on drinks and whores. After killing DeShay, Buck and the Preacher escape from the remaining bounty hunters, then reunite with Buck's wife Ruth. Ruth actually gets to have a speech and argue that they should move to Canada, because nowhere in America is safe. "It's like a poison soaked into the ground," and they don't seem to really be free, even after the war. Buck replies that he promised to get the wagon train to Colorado safely, and that they'll starve during the winter, with all their supplies and money gone. She says he's just one man and can't save them all, but eventually she gives in and goes with him and the Preacher as they join the settlers' camp. So even though she doesn't win the argument, it's far more character development than Kerry Washington's Broomhilda got; she is more a damsel-in-distress throughout Tarantino's film. Ruth even takes part in the robbery in town.

The Preacher suggests they rob a bank for money, and Buck agrees, but they hit the post office first, which has already sent its cash to the bank. Ruth warns them that the sheriff's posse has arrived in town, but Buck is still determined to hit the bank. They succeed, but the postal worker they previously locked up gets free, and they have to shoot their way out of town. They ride to Native American territory for help, and the sheriff calls off the posse, unwilling to engage in a fight with the tribe. Buck meets with the chief again and tries to negotiate help, but the chief is wary of getting into fights with the whites; he will not sell them weapons or gunpowder. Buck tries to argue that the whites are their common enemy, but the chief (through his wife who translates) gives a speech about how whites have driven them off their land and into desperate circumstances too. They may die out soon, but will fight as long as they can, and will save their weapons for their own battles. Also they remind Buck that he used to serve in the army and fight against them. I appreciated that this film tried to show nuance about the Native Americans as well as the black community. Even the white sheriff protested against DeShay harassing the black settlers, and he rightfully only wants to capture Buck and the Preacher for the crimes they committed. Unfortunately, DeShay's henchman kills the sheriff so that he can attack the wagon train.

It's a good movie, showing both how the Preacher becomes a good man, and how Buck commits crimes and is willing to risk his life to protect the people of the wagon train. And thankfully, the violence is not as over-the-top and hard to watch as Django Unchained.

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