Badland Winning the Wild West of Streaming: A Conversation with Kevin MakelyApril 12, 2020
“You are a wanted war criminal, and you have been sentenced to hang. I’m here to see that those wishes are carried out.”
“And how exactly do you plan on carrying that out?”
“Can start by finding an oak tree big enough to hold a man of your stature.”
So begins Badland (now streaming on Netflix) a classic western tale of good guys and bad guys, that rose as high as number three on Netflix’s top ten list. It’s an impressive task for a Western in 2020.
[This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi]
Badland follows a Pinkerton Detective, named Matthias Breecher, tasked with hunting down convicted Confederate war criminals. Breecher is a hard man, with a fast gun, who believes in what he’s doing.
It’s an arduous job, as these war criminals aren’t keen on being found.
Breecher rides across the country, seeking quarry after quarry, finding a few scenic viewpoints along the way.
Star Kevin Makely describes the film as an “homage…[i]t’s a love letter to Spaghetti Westerns, [and] an homage to every great character that came before.”
Makely says he was influenced by heroes such as “every Clint Eastwood character, John Rambo, and Luke Skywalker.”
One of those, as you can see, is not like the others. “[Breecher] is the pistolero, [the] gunslinging cowboy, [who combines] the bad-assery of Rambo with the nobility of a Jedi.”
The influence of Luke Skywalker, while seemingly out of place (though Star Wars may be described as a space western), fits perfectly if you understand what makes the man tick; Kevin Makely, that is. Not, Matthias Breecher.
The conversation led naturally into a discussion about his youth, and the influence movies had on his life. “I grew up with just my Mom and my brother. We didn’t have a lot of money…but we bonded through movies. It’s where the three of us, from as far as I can remember, got along.”
The movies connected Makely to his mother, and particularly his brother, with whom he didn’t always relate. His mother, who worked multiple jobs to keep the family financially sustained during difficult times, was a massive Star Trek fan, and during family dinners they’d watch an episode of the show.
On the weekend? They went to the movies.
For Makely, Luke Skywalker was “my role model, my hero, my best friend for as long as I can remember,” and he added that following Skywalker’s death in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, “it caught me so off-guard, I wept uncontrollably.”
For Makely to pour so much of his greatest hero into Breecher, suggests he was giving his entire soul to the the character; sharing with audiences some private part of himself that transcends the film.
Badland, features an impressive cast of characters supporting Makely’s Breecher, and perhaps its cast is where the film shines most brightly. It features stellar performances from Academy Award winners Mira Sorvino, and Wes Studi, as well as screen legend Bruce Dern. It even features a cameo by multi-platinum selling recording artist, and actor, Trace Adkins, as a confederate general sought by Breecher.
Mira Sorvino plays a rugged frontierswoman, and daughter of one of Breecher’s quarries. Her character could easily be played as one note: either a bad-ass with no layers, or a quiet woman out of her element. Unsurprisingly, Sorvino brings an unquestioning depth to the character, and is surely one of the highlights of the film. The balance between concern and resolve, loyalty and fear, is wonderful.
Studi is excellent, as always, in a small, but meaningful role as an erstwhile friend and antagonist for Breecher, and Dern provides a complicated, and difficult performance.
The film, unquestionably however, sits atop Makely’s broad shoulders, and he delivers. Breecher is a man of few words, and Makely, as an actor, needs to rely on more than dialogue to communicate. “I think it’s harder not to talk [in a role.] Next to comedy, saying nothing and conveying emotion through a look or an image in your mind, without mugging for the camera is the [most difficult type of performance.]”
Fortunately, as mentioned, Badland provides Makely a stellar supporting cast. “I was spoiled by such amazing talent. I was almost a fly on the wall in my own movie watching these amazing actors work. Whether I had to react with a line, or react to what they’re saying, it was easy to react to amazing performances…if I had to make it all up, it [would not have been as good.”]
But ultimately, while the cast is incredible, the movie comes down to Makely’s Breecher: who he is, and what he stands for.
“If you’re a bad guy, he’ll kill you in two seconds,” without thinking twice. But Breecher isn’t a soulless, thoughtless, instrument of death, either. He is both considerate, and deliberate, “[and] if you have [even] an ounce of goodness, he’ll give you a chance.”
Badland is one of the good ones; you should give it a chance. It’s streaming on Netflix, now.