ANY BULLET WILL DO
This is a review of the Region 1 (U.S) DVD of “Any Bullet Will Do”, the third feature-length film from Papa Octopus Productions. I thoroughly enjoyed their two previous releases which consist of the dramatic thriller, “Big Legend” see review- https://adamthemoviegod.com/big-legend-review-something-lie-beyond-the-woods/ and a slow-burn western called “A Reckoning” see review- https://adamthemoviegod.com/a-reckoning-review-revenge-comes-in-all-different-forms/. Any Bullet Will Do is an Action/Western film Written and Directed by Justin Lee. Primarily set in Montana during 1876, Former Union soldier turned headhunter Hollis Ransom (played by Kevin Makely), enlists the help of a fur trapper, as he sets out through unfamiliar territory in Big Sky country looking to find and kill his brother Everett (Todd A. Robinson). The film also stars Bruce Davison (Insidious: The Last Key), Jenny Curtis (Friends Don’t Let Friends), Meg Foster (Lords Of Salem), and Mark Ryan (TV’S Black Sails).
Driven. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of young filmmaker Justin Lee. Here’s a guy with not only a clear knowledge of filmmaking but an understanding of resourcefulness when it comes to independent film. The amount of praise I’ve been singing for Lee in recent times probably makes it seem as though I have an affiliation to, or a biased view of the man, such is not the case. I, myself, are an aspiring filmmaker, and it gives me hope to see someone in a similar position making a successful go of it. Any Bullet Will Do is the second western from Papa Octopus Productions, but unlike the reluctant nature of its predecessor, this time around the pacing is better handled. Lee combines nicely with DP, Will Turner to get a rather fulsome presentation, perhaps his best yet. Shot on location, the Montana forest looks nothing short of breathtaking, both in its spring setting and the winter. Turner’s framing is fantastic and the shot choices are simple but constructive. The use of a drone in several establishing shots certainly raises the production value, as to do the dynamic wide shots during the trekking transition portions of the film. A majority of it takes place during the day but Turner and his team still do a great job of keeping the amount of light consistent from shot to shot. The audio track is crisp and clear, and the use of low-fi treble and bass help complement Makely’s opening piece of narration as the Union prepares to do battle with the Confederates. Justin’s regular composer Jared Forman is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Any Bullet Will Do has three distinct musical styles and is clearly some of his best work thus far. The first theme builds around rock/blues acoustic guitar, the second changes to electric guitar but melodic in nature, even ballad-like. The last is where things become drum-centric, left for the films more suspenseful moments. I don’t normally mention the wardrobe department on independent films, but when it comes to the Western genre it remains an essential detail of the film’s fabric (oooh that’s a bad pun). Christina Bushner deserves all the accolades for the detailed clothing, hats, belts, and holsters (among other things). I was able to buy into the setting immediately and all because of the costume and set design, so kudos.
Some familiar faces return to take part in Lee’s third film, most notably Makely and Robinson. Everyone involved turns in really solid performances though. Experienced heads in Davison and Foster lead from the front and are particularly good. Davison playing “Carrington”, a greedy town mayor/sheriff of sorts. He chews the scenery as good as anyone during his interactions with Makely. Meg makes an appearance as “Ma Whitman”, the woman who runs the prostitutes in town and again she’s as natural as we’ve come to expect. The addition of Jenny Curtis as “Rose Gage” is a nice one too. She brings a bit of fiery female spirit to the proceedings and I dug her characters look. Makely and Robinson worked together on Justin’s two previous films. They’ve definitely grown, and over time developed an organic shorthand with each other. Todd has a little less screen time than he did in Big Legend but he’s good regardless, and I think this is Kevin’s best performance. Not to mention, he more than looks the part of the disheveled and emotionally wrecked lone soldier. Lee’s honed his writing abilities in quite a short period of time and Any Bullet Will Do is solid proof of that. Through some good dialogue, he touches on Hollis’s family division early on, as well as making an interesting choice for the soldier’s guide (leading you one way and ultimately going another). The inclusion of several stronger and more interesting scenes ultimately pays dividends this time around. The opening battle, albeit brief, is ambitious and well-executed. Then there’s Carrington’s eventful interrogation of a townsperson (Bruce’s best scene) and a lively sequence in a saloon. All the western tropes that we love are on display here. You’ll even find the witty and humorous conversation that occurs between two drifters, Lonnie and Karl (played by Sean Cook and Randy Ryan) to be far more entertaining than expected. The action is carefully arranged and somewhat limited (mainly due to the budget), but some practical blood spray and effects work from Jerry Buxbaum bring that vital element of realism to this harsh environment.
If I’m being nitpicky, I’d say that Makely and Curtis try their damndest to stretch their faculties beyond their current limits in order to try to harness the full spectrum of emotions. Crying freely isn’t an easy thing to do for most people, and made even more difficult in the land of make-believe. I found some of Jenny’s punchy delivery to be a touch too modern for the period as well. Lee gives us a few momentary peeks into the window of Hollis’s past, which is more than we got in the aforementioned “A Reckoning”. That said, I think one pure flashback to the event in question would’ve gone a long way to gaining further insight as to how these brothers drifted apart and what the catalyst ultimately was for that happening (other than the obvious). The film doesn’t have any obvious plot holes, other than the fact that it’s not overly realistic to shoot a man once and just leave him for dead, especially not in that revenge-fueled world. I understand the need for said sequence because it sets up the vengeance aspect, but still. I’m a little disappointed that this is a bare-bones release because those of us interested in film would’ve loved some features looking at how something like this was made on such limited funds, never mind though.
Justin Lee’s, Any Bullet Will Do is a super impressive independent venture into the hardened world of the Western. It’s like a mix of “Seraphim Falls” and the “True Grit” remake and is easily Lee’s most impressive film to date (with the end result likened more to the latter film). I love the DVD artwork, the landscape is stunning, the cinematography smooth, and the audio is as sharp as ever. Forman’s score is wonderful and Bushner’s costume and set design are methodical in the attention to detail. The returning players here are great to watch and the newcomers make for lively inclusions, most notably Brea Bee who sings really well in her one scene. The standard of acting is high from all involved, but both Davison and Makely deliver almost career-best performances. The characters are all enjoyable, the downtime is shortened, and most of the scenes are more dynamic than in Lee’s previous western. Whilst the action is still reduced, the story is never boring. I can critique a couple of the finer points in a few of the performances and look at what could have been added that wasn’t, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing that puts a dampener on affairs. People seriously need to start talking about this film and they’re not. For some unknown reason, Lee seems to be copping a bit of a beatdown from critics of late. I think it screams of jealousy or unrealistic expectations because none of their feedback appears to carry any real weight. I say it time and time again, if you’re going to review these types of films it’s important to grasp the process behind it and all that it entails. Anywho, in typical hard-working fashion, Lee just continues to go about his business unaffected. If you’re a fan of western pictures and are open to watching independent films, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything in the genre as good as Any Bullet Will Do. The film is now available to purchase and you can check out the official trailer below!
My rating for “Any Bullet Will Do” is 8/10