Review: Sweetwater (Sundance 2013)
PLOT: In late 1800's New Mexico, a young bride's husband is murdered by a fanatical religious leader. She cuts a swath of vengeance across the territory.
REVIEW: Well, they can't all be winners, can they? Even a great festival like Sundance is not immune from a flop or two, especially late in the festival. Last year, it was probably LAY THE FAVORITE, while this year, that questionable “honor” goes to SWEETWATER.
Usually a good, pulpy revenge tale set in the Old West would be right up my alley, but right from the get go it's obvious Logan and Noah Miller, the writers and directors of the film, are way out of their depth. The story is old hat, having been likely lifted from an old Raquel Welch western called HANNIE CAULDER, with a little KILL BILL thrown in for good measure. The west, which should be a character of it's own, has never been filmed so haphazardly, not even in the dozens of TV westerns my Dad used to grow up watching on TV. Compared to this, BONANZA is like UNFORGIVEN.
Matters aren't helped much by the cast. January Jones is a stunningly attractive woman. No one can argue that. But as an actress? I don't want to be mean, but this performance isn't only wooden, it's downright petrified. Jones is wonderful on MAD MEN, but she doesn't at all suit the part of a tough-as-nails former old west prostitute turned dirt farmer, with nary a hair out of place throughout. And despite the fact that in the first half-hour of the film, she loses a husband, a baby, and gets raped, her expression never goes beyond a pout. She does get topless later though- so there's that.
As if to make up for Jones' lack of enthusiasm, Ed Harris and Jason Isaacs go way, way, WAY over the top as respectively, a wacky sheriff, and the fanatical Mormon villain. Harris seems to be having fun howling at the moon like a wolf, and pirouetting and dancing around the desert, while trying to solve a double murder (with the Miller Bros., giving themselves a cameo). Isaacs plays your typical, wide-eyed, maniacal preacher, with a haircut and facial hair that makes him look like Gary Oldman's Dracula. He's absolutely ridiculous, but then again- I guess that suits the film.
Despite only running ninety minutes, SWEETWATER feels absolutely endless. Once the pulpy payback scenes kick in towards the end, even the most patient audience members will be way beyond caring, and eager for the credits to roll so they can bolt for the exit. Truly, SWEETWATER is one of the very worst films I've ever seen at a film festival- comparable to something like PASSION PLAY. Inevitably, given the cast- this will come out, but trust me, this is absolutely atrocious.