“Buckskin”is a new independent Action/Western film courtesy of B22 Films and Writer/Director, Brett Bentman (The Rodeo Thief and Copper Bill). It marks his eighth feature length film in just five short years. Along with wife Tiffany, the pair have quickly become a formidable staple for the DIY approach to indie filmmaking (at least in this reviewers eyes). I think over the years Brett has began to hone his craft, something that comes more naturally with experience. Buckskin is set in the early 1820’s and revolves around former Texan fur trapper – turned cook, Wesley Porter (played by B22 Films regular, Tom Zembrod). Porter is accosted by a long serving captain (Robert Keith) to locate the man’s young grandson, Levi (Blaze Freeman). A request that ultimately leads him on a daunting trek into Buckskin woods, where he must face not only foreign danger but his own personal demons. The film also stars Corey Cannon, Tiffany McDonald, Jeremy Gauna, Eddie Gomez, and Billy Blair.
I’ve always been a sucker for anything with a Western vibe, so despite its inherently low-budget, Buckskin appealed to me right off the bat. It’s an 80 minute film with a couple of familiar faces involved and a talented team of creatives working hard behind the camera. DP, Anthony Gutierrez employs consistently good cinematography and opts for a lot of simple two-shot coverage, that by and large works for the picture. The overall look of the film is a befittingly bleak one, so I’d be lying if I said that some of the green of the woods that we see throughout the second act wasn’t a welcomed addition.The audio track is as crisp and clear as I’ve heard from an indie film in 2021, and although the score could be perceived as somewhat thin, it’s focus of ambient strings working in tandem with the mounting drama was certainly noteable. Brett wastes no time drawing you in, establishing two key plot points almost immediately. There’s a great scene and surprising conclusion to the end of the first act which involves a secondary character (and is perhaps the highlight of the film). The film is rather light in the action department (most likely due to budget limitation) but there’s a brief tomahawk fight sequence that pleases. The other aspect worth mentioning is Andy Arrasmith (who also plays Myles in the film) and Emma Siate’s special makeup fx work. There’s a fairly detailed facial prosthetic piece which looks really good in the daylight scenes, although for no apparent reason transitions in the night exteriors to looking rather artificial.
The key constant in each of Bentman’s films has been that of the bar that the actors set – and once again Buckskin is no exception. Zembrod’s weathered and emotionally shaky portrayal of Porter makes him a sympathetic character. Despite the visibly hardened edges of his front to the world and those within it, you want to know more about his experiences and his life earlier in the war. However, it’s Robert Keith that really ends up stealing the show in his role of a powerful man devastated by the news of Levi’s disappearance. Keith doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name, but what he does possess is natural screen presence (as well as over 30 years worth of experience). He seemed to handle the emotional material with a certain ease, whereas others had to reach a little more to hit their marks. Corey Cannon is steadfast in the role of Henry, a sort-of right hand man to the captain, and Giovannie Cruz as “The Fortune Teller” also has some impressive screen time in what is one of the more intense scenes in the film.
With all independent ventures come constraints, and perhaps a few of my crticisms of Buckskin can just be chalked up to that – you decide. For one, the whole cast look entirely too clean for what is supposed to be a time-worn era of 1820. It wouldn’t have hurt to apply a little more attention to detail in the makeup and wardrobe departments in order to capture that legitimacy one strives for when making a period piece film. The same can be said of the lack of variety in camera technique and execution. Don’t get me wrong, everything is servicable but I’d loved to have seen Anthony implement a few close ups, get a touch more intimate and punch in on some of those particulars that may have had relevance to the story beats e.g, the fortune teller’s artificats. Even in regard to sets or set locations, they’re few and far between. There’s mention of a homestead but no exteriors are shown of the town, a main strip, really anything for that matter (minus the church). I’m aware of the budget limitations, but there can be no denying that those genre mainstays help with regard to authenticity. The first act of Buckskin is undoubtedly the strongest, in which we’re introduced to a couple of new and interesting characters that help flesh out the beginning of Wesley’s journey. Unfortunately, momentum all but stalls once young Levi enters the picture and the final thirty minutes begin to dissolve into a series of scenes in which the pair either wander aimlessly around the woods bickering, or Wesley has vivid flashbacks and dreams which are depicted. The latter of which are both oddly timed in terms of their structure as well as their placement within the film. There was a lost opportunity for some grounded tension between Porter and Myles when the former fails to ask him how he knew about his task of tracking down the captain’s grandson. We’re led to believe these people reside in a small town, and hence they would probably all know each other, right? Yet when Myles broaches Porter it’s clear they don’t know each other at all. Mystery agendas may have been a nice layer to weave into that scene – Food for thought.
Brett Bentman has proven to be one of the hardest working independent filmmakers that I’ve personally come across in the last four or five years. Buckskin is just one of three feature films from a very diverse B22 Films slated for 2021 release – with another three films set for 2022 (which include both a war picture and a creature feature b-movie). Buckskin boasts a solid production value, good execution of the technical elements, and a pair of really good performances from Zembrod and Keith. However, it’s not without its limitations in terms of both action content and overall variety. The film could’ve benefited from additional locations, more of a variety in camera work, and extra added tension built between its primary characters. As it stands, Buckskin serves as a serviceable slow-burn Mystery/Western recommended for fans of the genre. Taper your expectations somewhat and I think you’ll find plenty worthwhile here. Buckskin is now available via streaming services as well as the official DVD release. Feel free to check out the trailer below.
Buckskin – 5.5/10