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I'se a free man, Colonel
Steven Hellerstedt | 09/01/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"During the waning days of the Civil war a small band of Confederate calvary, led by Colonel "Bloody" Ben Loftin (Paul Winters, who also directed this movie), steal a shipment of gold from a Union army unit. The unit's commander, Major J.T. Haskell (Carlos Milano, also the producer), vows to reclaim the gold - perhaps, we're led to believe, to keep for himself. Haskell's comes a-gunnin' for the goldnapper and presently finds himself at Loftin's plantation, where he murders Loftin's wife when she fails to tell him where Loftin or the gold is at. The war ends, Loftin returns home and vows vengeance on the man who murdered his wife. The road to vengeance leads wast, where Haskell has been reassigned to battle frontier indians. Loftin's newly free slave, Nate (Ricco Ross), goes along to tend after his broken ex-master.
For the most part NATE AND THE COLONEL is told from Nate's point of view (he is the voice-over narrator throughout the movie.) Smart move. Ross, who has appeared in minor film roles since the late `80s, is the best actor in this low budget indie and the movie benefits whenever it focuses on his character. Nate and the Colonel happen upon a wounded Chippewa indian and nurse him back to health. A short while later, the Colonel now deep in his cups and drawing from a seemingly bottomless flask of whiskey, the pair are captured by a roving band of Chippewa braves. They're rescued by the intervention of one of the tribe's leader, who recognizes them as the ones who had earlier saved his life.
It's right about then that NATE AND THE COLONEL unravels a bit. For a vengeance movie to work it has to maintain a laser focus on the object of its obsession. That focus is lost and doesn't return until the end of the film, even though one of Haskell's scouts has located the Colonel, who Haskell still believes is carrying his gold and the key to his early retirement. The Colonel seems lost in an eternal alcoholic bender and earns the name Face In the Dirt.
NATE AND THE COLONEL assumes a bit much. It never explains why the newly-freed Nate would drop whatever life he had built at home, or whatever dreams he might have had as a free man, to turn his back on it all and go with the Colonel. In fact the movie dismisses the issue with a short and awkward "Sorry about slavery and all that" scene which simply isn't enough. It never explains why Loftin's vow to avenge his wife's murder is unceremoniously dropped as soon as they reach the Chippewa village.
According to its web site, "Canyon Press produces Native American films. We are dedicated to producing and distributing films that are interesting, relevant and entertaining." That mission statement, I believe, explains a lot. We spent an awful lot of time in the Native American village, and it could be argued that the Native society offered a type of healing that couldn't be found elsewhere. For instance, Nate and the Colonel both marry Native American women in a joint ceremony that, with my understanding of race relations between ex-slave and ex-slave holder circa 1866, seemed incredibly unlikely. I'm willing to accept the healing power of Native American societies, but I'd prefer a little more explanation and would rather it not derail a compelling vengeance tale in the process.
With those reservations accounted for I still recommend NATE AND THE COLONEL. The general level of acting is a cut above the usual low budget independent norm. If implausible and wandering in spots, the movie presents a series of novel images that held my attention throughout. Most of all the cinematography, by Jay Truesdale, is simply beautiful and first rate. This is a great looking movie.