On the outskirts of the U.S. Civil War, a boy is sent north by his bounty hunter gang to retrieve a wanted man.
It is 1864 and on the outskirts of the Civil War, business as usual continues for slave-owners and traders. We follow Will (Ashton Sanders), a 13 year-old boy without a family who along with Marcus (Keston John), are two black men who work with a white bounty hunter gang who sends them out to earn the trust of runaway slaves in order to lure them back to the South. In return, both men are paid in money and food. One day, Burrell (Bill Oberst Jr.), the gang’s leader, sends them up North to track down a fugitive freedman, Nate (Tishuan Scott) and tells them that if they don’t return with him in tow, he will track them down and kill them both. When they eventually find him, they claim that his dying brother sent them and he makes his way back South with them.
On their trek back, Will finds himself fascinated with Nate. He is a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He is smart and intelligent, he can handle himself in a fight and is afraid of no one. He is unlike any other man that he has ever met. Will asks a lot of questions but Nate is always quick to hush him. Over time though, he begins to open up a little and the two begin a friendship. Every chance Marcus gets, he reminds Will why they’re doing what they’re doing and tells him to shut up. One morning, all three men are awoken by the sounds of gunshots. They quickly realize that they are in the middle of a gunfight between the Union and the Confederates. With mayhem surrounding them, Marcus tries to run away but gets shot in the process.
Will manages to escape but one soldier catches up with him. He ties him up but Nate kills him and rescues the boy. They manage to escape the gunfight and continue on their excursion home. Along the way, the two men bond, Will having never known his father and Nate having had a young child die of Consumption. Nate tells Will that after he tends to his dying brother, Will is welcome to travel back up North with him where they can live free and start a new life and that he will look after him. Intermittently, we can see Will wants to tell him what’s really going on but can never muster up the courage to do so and also fears for his life if he doesn’t bring him back alive. They eventually reach the intended cabin where they are to be surrounded by Burrell and his men but Will finally tells Nate what’s happening and it’s here that he makes one final stand, not just for himself but for Will too.
The performances here are excellent, especially that of newcomer Ashton Sanders, as the tortured Will. His life is a never-ending nightmare with no apparent way out. He has to deceive his own people in order to survive and we can tell that it torments him every single day. When he meets Nate however, and they form a rapport, for the first time in his life he can see light at the end of the tunnel but it is quickly extinguished when he is reminded of Burrell and his life-threatening vow, should he fail. Mr. Sanders doesn’t say very much but he doesn’t have to, his eyes are overly expressive and just one glimpse tells us everything we need to know. Mr. Scott, as the unassuming Nate, gives a masterful performance in a role that could have easily turned into cliched triteness in the hands of a lesser actor.
The heart of the movie is the relationship that develops between Nate and Will and you just never know where it is going to take you. The two men come to rely on each other and they both save each other’s lives in different life-threatening situations. When it appears that Will is going to tell Nate the truth about their situation, something happens that prevents him from doing so and you actually find yourself on the edge of your seat, hoping he would just hurry up and tell him. Director Chris Eska has constructed a moving and compelling drama that will stay with you long after the movie has ended. Highly recommended.
In select theaters now