By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

For years now, Corsicana has been a growing landscape for cinema. Through the guidance of Robert Johnson and Amber McNutt, film productions have become a common sight in town. The rolling of cameras and the hum of sound equipment have become as much a part of the daily landscape as seeing the occasional celebrity sighting around Navarro County.

With a new year, comes a new film from the mind of screenwriter Robert Johnson – one with ties less fantastical (zombies and Giallo-style thrillers), and more closer to home. A look at the early days of the events leading to the founding of Corsicana with a film, aptly titled, Corsicana.

In an age of superheroes and sequels, Corsicana presents a genre rarely seen in modern day cineplexes: The western. Directed by and starring Isaiah Washington, the film focuses on historical figure, Bass Reeves (Washington). Reeves was a former slave turned first African-American United States Deputy Marshal with a record of more than 3,000 arrests of dangerous criminals, 14 of which were shot and killed in self-defense.

In the film’s story, Reeves joins with his former partners, Tanner (Jason Johnson) and sharpshooter “California” (Hank Slaughter) to track down and intercept Jack Donner (Lew Temple) and his savage gang by the time they get to Eagle Pass.

As Washington’s directorial debut, the film takes a slower, methodical pacing to the narrative, allowing viewers time to get immersed in the world of East Texas’ earliest days. The film’s visuals focus on wide vista shots of the surroundings, and the open plains (all shot around the Corsicana area) provide a tantalizing desire to explore.

The action scenes are subdued. Gunfights presented here lack the modern pizazz seen in recent cinematic outings, instead focusing on how they really were: Short, simple, and messy. That’s not to say these moments don’t provide an interesting payoff. It took patience and a sharp mind to survive a duel, and the surprising tactics are effective.

The supporting cast paints a compelling canvas of violence, revenge, and justice. Local Corsicanians will recognize a few familiar faces among the ensemble players (Johnson, the McNutt family). Temple as Donner provides a fixated menace with a flourish of leaving tarot cards upon his victim’s bodies, and henchmen with their own agendas. But this is Washington’s story, and as Reeves, he presents the character as world-weary, but unshakably determined to fulfill his duty.

Corsicana is a movie more about the journey, less the destination (one should be able to guess where the protagonist’s adventures conclude). The film tells one of the many, many stories of the legend of Bass Reeves, providing a look into one of history’s most influential figures (Reeves is also said to be the basis of inspiration for the “Lone Ranger” character).

Of all the films shot in the Corsicana area, this entry is Johnson’s and McNutt’s strongest quality offering to date, and an impressive debut for Washington.

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