When a commercial western advances an ambitious thematic agenda within the inevitable genre tropes, it is perhaps an occasion to pay greater attention to the work at hand, while concurrently such increased scrutiny might also lay bare the deficiencies of the initial ambitions themselves. Such is the case with “Posse”. Kirk Douglas directed, co-produced and stars in this surprisingly underdeveloped western which seems to have an immensity of great ideas on its mind, though it fails to seize upon myriad opportunities to explore any potentialities in a significant way.
The set-up is relatively simple- celebrated marshal Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) pursues and captures notorious bank robber Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern) with the aid of his super posse, incarcerates him briefly (but long enough to drink of enthusiastic political waters) to then transfer the prisoner by rail to certain punishment -though once the capture is made, the true interests of the story emerge with remarkably unsubtle speed, most particularly in the jaundiced view the film presents of the machinations of ambition in manipulating public admiration to shamelessly advance one’s own personal ambitions, especially if that adoration is born from what should be modestly regarded as public service.
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