Even though he’d been producing many of his own movies since the late ’50s, the venerable star Kirk Douglas didn’t try directing until the early ’70s, and it’s surprising how little skill he brought to the task. Both movies that Douglas directed—this one and the pirate flick Scalawag (1973)—suffer from middling storylines and tonal chaos. Posse is the better of the two, but it’s a messy endeavor in which Douglas’ admirable ambition far exceeds his directorial abilities. A failed attempt at a postmodern Western in the Sam Peckinpah mode, Posse revolves around U.S. Marshal Howard Nightingale (Douglas), who tries to curry political favor with frontier types by tracking down ruthless bank robber Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern). Nightingale organizes the mob of the film’s title, only to get captured by his quarry. Then, in what was undoubtedly meant to be an ironic twist, Nightingale’s posse must turn criminal in order to raise money with which to pay Strawhorn for Nightingale’s release. It all ends with lots of preaching and violence, so viewers are supposed to walk away from the movie contemplating issues of justice and mob rule and so forth. Had the movie been written with more clarity—and, quite frankly, had Douglas’ lead performance been more subtle—Posse might have become the hard-hitting statement Douglas surely envisioned. But while previous Douglas productions about the murky intersections between morality and violence had shattering power (consider his remarkable Stanley Kubrick collaboration from 1957, Paths of Glory), Posse is simultaneously overwrought and underdeveloped. The biggest moments are delivered with bludgeoning obviousness, an issue exacerbated by Douglas’ over-the-top acting, and the heaviest thematic elements are subverted by mixed narrative messages. In the end, the film says so many things, so loudly, that it’s a muddle. Still, the intentions are good, the production values are fine, and supporting player Dern’s performance crackles with his unique energy—few people play villains with anywhere near the level of humanity and nuance that Dern brings to the task.