What frustrates me the most about Bad Country, a self-proclaimed “gritty action thriller” set in 1980s Louisiana, is how much it wants to be taken seriously. There’s hardly any light in the whole picture, actors growl every line and the dialogue pushes far past the point of believability in hopes of being as gruff and brooding as possible. And yet, no amount of posturing can mask the fact that Bad Country more than lives up to its name – this is one bad, bad movie, from laughable writing and lousy editing to performances that are utterly eclipsed by terrible accents and even worse mustaches.
It’s a shame that Bad Country is such a chore to watch; the cast, on paper, should be perfect for an ’80s-set shoot-em-up. Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Tom Berenger, all known for playing rough-and-tumble sorts in thrillers from that decade, take on lead roles that should be well within their respective wheelhouses. However, Jonathan Hirschbein’s woefully inadequate script forgets to pad any of these lead characters with even a semblance of personality, and the actors flounder as a result.
Dafoe, mangling a Southern accent, sleep-walks through the role of Bud Carter, a Baton Rouge police detective who has devoted his life to cleaning up the city’s scum. (In a throwback to Morgan Freeman’s character in Se7en, Dafoe introduces Bad Country by describing the setting as “Hell with the lid off.”) When, during a routine bust, Bud gets on the trail of a major crime ring, the detective puts pressure on contract killer Jesse Weiland (Dillon) to flip and help him bring down crime boss Lutin Adams (Berenger). Jesse, sporting a handlebar mustache to rival Bud’s, reluctantly acquiesces to avoid life in prison, but the tattooed thug finds himself in over his head, as Lutin realizes Jesse’s betrayal and goes after his family (including his newborn son and helpless wife, played by Amy Smart).
Dillon gets some moments of genuine menace and emotional pathos, but they are few and far between. Mostly, he glowers at the camera and grits his teeth angrily, which is all the role really calls for. Berenger, in a slightly more over-the-top role, still looks as stifled by poor characterization as a bug in amber, and Smart delivers a class of acting that Days of Our Lives extras would likely take umbrage at.
There are a few moments, mostly early in the film, where shadowy cinematography, quick cuts and a suspenseful score allow Bad Country to succeed as the kind of sordid, exciting thriller it clearly wanted to be. Alas, the film quickly collapses on multiple fronts. The weakest link is unquestionably a screenplay that fails to develop characters, give them decent dialogue or even form a semi-coherent plot. Characters are introduced then dropped, never to be seen again, and some of the plot machinations are so painfully ham-fisted that it would have made for a better film if the actors had spoken directly to the audience, simply telling them what was going to happen next.
The editing also gets progressively more obnoxious as Bad Country goes on, culminating in a shoot-out that’s completely disjointed and bizarrely slack. Unfortunately, I was never gripped or even remotely entertained by the action sequences in Bad Country – what should be compelling and engaging is instead dull and overly familiar. In a movie as reliant on its gun battles as Bad Country, that’s a near fatal flaw.
Bad Country was the first and last directorial project of The Boondocks Saints producer Chris Brinker, who died of an aortic aneurysm while the film was in post-production. We’ll never know whether Brinker’s obvious passion for this kind of gritty drama and furious gunplay would have been utilized in a movie of higher quality than Bad Country. It’s a clear shame though that Brinker was handicapped by such a weak script and lazy editing.
The 1080p High Definition transfer for Bad Country suffers from a prevailing softness which only grows more troubling as picture quality dips in and out. Details are displayed with sufficient clarity in the film’s brighter sequences, but the majority of the film is set at night, which makes it much harder to watch certain scenes. Brinker was obviously working on a very small budget with Bad Country (the vast majority of which went toward his actors), so I’m inclined to cut him a break, but it seems apparent that the Blu-Ray transfer does only the best it can with a movie that was suffering from low picture quality from the start.
No such problems with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Track, which exhibits decent depth and preserves the force of gunshots (which feature heavily into the film). Dialogue takes a backseat but is still clear throughout, while the film’s score is incorporated effectively. No complaints here – the only issues with understanding dialogue would have to come from the actors’ accents, which are certainly confusing at times.
Not much by way of special features on this disc. Bad Country includes:
- Deleted Scenes (7:53)
- Taking Down An Empire: On the Set (11: 53)
The deleted scenes are mostly pointless, but it’s clear that more than one of the included scenes was cut because of poor camera quality and inconsistent lighting. Only a few of them are worth a watch; a mental breakdown subplot for Dafoe’s character is well-acted (if out of place), while a dream sequence involving Dillon and Smart’s characters is suspenseful and haunting enough that it should have been included.
The requisite making-of featurette puts a spotlight on the enthusiasm of the actors, producers and director on set throughout the filming of Bad Country. Various individuals, including Brinker, Dafoe and co-star Neal McDonough, comment on the difficulty of filming on location in balmy Baton Rouge, and everyone interviewed has positive things to say about the atmosphere on set. What really comes through in the featurette is Brinker’s boundless enthusiasm – for Bad Country but also for filmmaking as a whole. It’s deeply saddening that the director’s obvious talents won’t be put to further use in additional projects.
Despite that, I can’t recommend Bad Country. It strands talented actors in roles so thinly written that the mustaches they wear have more of a presence, and the editing is completely disorienting in places. What’s more – I never found myself invested in the plot or characters, and a thoroughly brooding atmosphere just isn’t enough to make up for Bad Country‘s shortcomings. That said, you won’t find video and audio quality better for this film than on the Blu-Ray, so if you’re interested in checking out Bad Country, either out of respect for Brinker’s efforts or interest in the cast, definitely shell out the extra few bucks.
True to its name, Bad Country falls short on almost every count, but it's not just bad - it's also lazy, lifeless and guilty of squandering many fine actors.