After the sad news of Michael Cimino’s death, we thought it appropriate to take a look over his body of work for your listening pleasure. We’re covering the bulk of his output, certainly feature film-wise, as both screenwriter and director with a look at Silent Running, Magnum Force, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, Year of the Dragon, The Sicilian, Desperate Hours, and The Sunchaser.
Cimino started his career directing commercials, but we’re picking up his story as he turns to scriptwriting. He’d actually drafted a few scripts that he’d later go on to direct before his first credited screenplay showed up in cinemas, the 1972 sc-fi film Silent Running
Directed by special effects supremo Douglas Trumbull, this has gone on to be a touchstone in the 70’s miserabilist, doom-laden sci-fi subgenre – no jaunty, mental Robinson Crusoe on Mars here. It is not, no matter what Wikipedia’s synopsis might tell you, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. You can tell this because, as a general rule, societies that have suffered an apocalyptic event do not spend any precious remaining resources on orbital arboretums, nor on equipping said space-gardens with pool-playing robots. These are not recognised on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as far as I’m aware.
From what little detail the film dishes out, it sounds rather more like a Soylent Green scenario – vastly overcrowded planet, difficult living conditions and food manufactured en-masse, rather than grown organically. Indeed, it seems the situation is so bad that all of the land mass has been given over to urbanisation, but those forward thinking eggheads and boffins have decided to hedge their bets on biodiversity by building a number of massive orbital greenhouses to host the plant and animal life displaced, in case they are ever needed to replant the Earth.
Onboard one of these greenhouses, the Valley Forge, is humourless, touchy space hippy Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), and three twelve year old boys in adult’s bodies that, for reasons we’ll get to soon enough, we need not concern ourselves with. Also on board are three wobbling maintenance robots, who go a long way towards proving that bipedal robots are an awful idea.
Lowell decides to take drastic action when an order comes through to scuttle the greenhouses and return to Earth, a decision that by itself seems questionable – surely having done the difficult part of hauling oak trees into space, the running costs aren’t that significant? But at any rate, Lowell refuses and sets about hijacking the ship, only very slightly reluctantly murdering his manchild co-workers in the process.
The rest of the film shows Lowell making a break for freedom, aided by the robots that he reprograms to help with tending the plants and playing poker, to the best of their roundly inadequate manipulator arms’ ability. These are terrible, terrible robots, although this doesn’t stop Lowell having a more caring relationship with them than any of the humans formerly on-board ship.
Crisis comes in two forms in the final act, as an approaching rescue ship threatens to expose the lies Lowell came up with to cover his murder and hijacking. More pressingly for Lowell, the plants he cares for so much are dying because, incredulously, the botanist assigned to look after plants hasn’t realised that plants need sunlight to survive, making him both a murder and a clueless buffoon.
Having fixed this with appropriate artificial lighting, he thankfully puts himself out of our misery when he realises the only hope for the survival of the greenhouse is to jettison it into space to drift along, tended by the remaining robot seemingly armed with one battered tin watering can to cover several acres of greenhouse, while Lowell scuttles the rest of the Valley Forge and himself, bringing this ludicrous display to a thankful end.
Some people seem to like this film and take it seriously, I have no idea why. It is baffling to me. The only positive I can take from this is that, as you’d perhaps expect with Trumbull on board, the effects work, specifically the models, are really well handled. Everything else? Well, the supposed hero is a clown who’s only one corpse short of being a mass murder, and who was unlikable enough before flipping out and killing people, which doesn’t help much with the whole empathy thing. There’s not much in the way of a story after that event, reducing to a number of vignettes of Lowell losing his sanity which might have been more effective if the character wasn’t a cold-blooded murderer, a point I feel I need to come back to fairly often lest you forget what we’re being sold here, and also if he wasn’t played by Bruce Dern, who’s gurning does not sit well with me.
Its ecological message is valid enough, but after being beaten about the head with it for ninety minutes I’m left with the urge to go start a forest fire. This film makes my teeth itch. Take it away from me.
We can be rather more positive about Cimino’s second screenwriting credit, the sequel to Dirty Harry, Magnum Force. And, indeed we have already have been, a year ago to this very day in our Clint Eastwood episode. We don’t want to be repeating ourselves too much, so we’ll just point out the basics.
Harry Callaghan finds himself investigating a string of vigilante killings of career criminals, eventually tracking it back to a group of young cops taking the law into their own hands, and Harry must put a lead-based stop to this.
Perhaps this was as a response to the understandable but I think incorrect accusations of the first film’s glorification of police violence and fascistic leanings, this rather more explicitly shows Harry as an upholder of the law – an uncompromising, tough cop, for sure, but a servant of the law, not a re-writer of it.
Regardless, it’s still a very enjoyable film, indeed one that’s holding up as well as the original Dirty Harry, while the other sequels descend quickly into barrel scraping. Certainly worth watching in the unlikely event you haven’t seen it already.
The film was a pivotal point in Cimino’s career, as during the shooting he got his script for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in front of Eastwood, who was interested enough to pick it up and star in it, opening the door for Cimino to direct.
The unusually named film sees a young tea leaf tearing out of a car showroom in a half inched motor. This is Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), solving half of the film’s naming conundrum. He soon picks up what seems to be a preacher running away from an assassin, but who in the fullness of time is revealed as a notorious bank robber nicknamed Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood), thus solving our paragraph long national nightmare of why this film is named the way it is.
Thunderbolt’s been hiding out as his former gang members are hunting him down, wrongly convinced that he’s swindled them out of their cut, although frankly explaining why they’re wrong would take more time than would be worth.
The initial stages of the film have Lightfoot and Thunderbolt, and boy do these character names not get less annoying to say the further on this goes, running from the gang members tracking them down, Red Leary (George Kennedy) and the Eddie Goody (Geoffrey Lewis), in something that’s halfway between a chase movie and a road trip. This pivots somewhat abruptly once Red and Eddie corner our protagonists, once Thunderbolt convinces them that he hadn’t double crossed them and Lightfoot suggests a repeat (more or less) performance of their previous heist.
Red and Eddie agree after a bit of arm twisting, but there’s always a question of whether they all really trust one another, leading to the inevitable double crosses and some tone-destroyingly grizzly or plain sad ends for a film that’s been a lighthearted knockabout caper, at least until the final reel.
That said, the severe tonal whiplash towards the end is the only thing that sticks out in Cimino’s debut directorial feature as an outright misstep. The story is on the thin side, but serviceable, but I’d probably be singing a different tune if Eastwood and Bridges weren’t in the central roles as an awful lot of this movie is coasting by on their charisma alone to fill out some narrative minimalism.
As first films go, it’s a pretty solid and enjoyable effort. It’s not, however, one that demands viewing from a historical perspective, but it’s an enjoyable diversion should you stumble upon it.
Having proved himself with a commercial hit in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Cimino was tapped up to develop a script that turned into the multiple Academy Award winning, AFI top 100 bothering movie The Deer Hunter. And yet, despite its fearsome reputation, it’s a film that’s completely failed to engage me the couple of times I’ve made an attempt to watch this. So, if nothing else this podcast presented a rationale for revisiting it.
The outline of the story, for those few who haven’t seen it, concerns itself with three Pennsylvanian steelworkers drafted into the Vietnam War, Mike Vronsky (Robert De Niro), Steven Pushkov (John Savage), and Nick Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken). The first act establishes some characterisation through the act of Steven’s wedding, although for him it’s not much more than “guy who loves his wife”. Nick’s more of the shy, retiring type, although it’s not like Mike is overly rambunctious himself. The main difference seems to come from Mike’s love of and respect for the act of hunting, and is reluctance to put up with his other friends, particularly John Cazale’s Stan’s, lack of preparation and general tomfoolery.
The second abruptly moves to the chaos of Vietnam, with Steve, Mike and Nick being unexpectedly reunited in the heat of battle only to be captured by opposing forces who aren’t exactly abiding by the Geneva convention. They keep the gang in a POW camp that’s not so much riverside as submerged, pulling them out to play Russian Roulette against each other. Mike and Nick stage a daring escape, taking Nick with them, and eventually make it to the relative safety of the US Bases.
The third act starts with Mike’s troubles adjusting to domestic life as he returns to Pennsylvania, but after meeting the now amputee Steve he realises that Nick hasn’t returned home, but is sending Steve money from his earnings in what turns out to be the underground Russian Roulette circuit in Vietnam, which is a thing, apparently, as far as this film is concerned. Mike resolves to go back to Vietnam and extract his buddy, who’s clearly been more mentally affected than they realised.
Now, there’s two hours of great drama in The Deer_Hunter, but unfortunately it’s a three hour long film. I found the first hour no less boring this time around, and by itself that’s bad enough. I’d also argue, and I think I’m in the minority here, that it doesn’t serve its intended purpose of setting up the main characters all that well. For my money, it does a better job featuring John Cazale, Chuck Aspegren and Meryl Streep’s characters none of whom serve any particularly important purpose in the wider narrative. John Savage in particular gets very short shrift in the opening act, and I don’t think he’s grossly under-utilised over the bulk of the film.
Once the film has finished grinding you down with its tedious wedding procedural and hunting scenes that are as much about scenery porn than character development, there’s an immediately arresting and impactful drama that may not have any basis in realty, or make any attempt at balance, but as a statement of the horrors of war it’s hugely compelling.
The turns from Walken and De Niro really sells the story so well, especially those roulette scenes, and it reaffirms how great both these guys are when at the top of their game- both seeming content to slide into good humoured self-parody these days.
Cimino has a Kubrickian reputation for exactness, with all the reshooting and budget overruns that entails even from his days as a commercial director, and here without the notoriously efficient Eastwood on his back he didn’t leave until he got the shots he wanted. Generally that should be good news for an audience, as it proves here, as it frequently looks stunning indeed, across all its locations.
And, of course, this was a brave film to make at the time. There’s no shortage of films now that will tell you of the horrors of the Vietnam War, but there was thought to be no audience stomach for it, with it also being a little too soon for a mirror to be held up. Also here we see the questioning of how the American dream is holding up these days, in a way that’s clear but not overly explicit, again, somewhat controversial and not deemed audience friendly at the time. But this was a big success for Cimino, critically and commercially, and perhaps opened doors that were best left barred given what’s coming up next.
While I now have a much better understanding of what the fuss is about in the film, I still cannot wholeheartedly recommend people watch a film I think a full third of is garbage. So, I suppose that I two-thirds of a heartedly recommend it, and even then I think I’m screaming into the wind on this one.
The very title itself provokes a wealth of associations in the mind, almost entirely about the pre and post production fallout rather than the film itself. We will get to that, but let’s look at what was put on the screen itself before getting into the weeds on this.
1870 sees Kris Kristofferson’s James Averill and John Hurt’s Bill Irvine graduating from Harvard in lavish scenes whose length and expense are in no way commensurate with their importance to the rest of the plot. We abruptly jump twenty odd years forward to find Averill as a Marshall in Wyoming, with Irvine part of a coalition of cattle owners headed by Sam Waterston’s Frank Canton that are setting up a posse to execute over a hundred immigrant farmers who they accuse of cattle rustling (“thieves and anarchists”), against Irvine’s protestations.
Returning to the remote communities threatened, he tries to convince bordello owner and love interest Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) to leave before the hammer drops, but she’s not into it. This also rather annoys Averill’s friend and local enforcer for the cattle owners, Christopher Walken’s Nathan D. Champion, who has his own designs on Watson, creating a love triangle that doesn’t create any particular drama and ultimately inconsequential to the film.
Anyway, when the death squad does get into town, Averill winds up reluctantly leading the ragged forces of the immigrants in a desperate effort against the slickly suited capitalist mercenaries, in a much more blatant and somewhat insultingly obvious requiem for the American Dream.
Now, I’ve abbreviated a little of this narrative for the sake of all our sanity, but not much, which is worrying for a three and a half hour film that had a first cut of five and a half hours. There seems to be entire reels of material here that, while absolutely beautiful, do not serve any purpose, either narratively or character-wise.
This gives us some outright weird character moments, and I’m thinking here in particular about Walken’s last stand, where he’s doing his Butch Cassidy tribute act. Just before heading out of the burning shack he’s in to get properly Bolivian Army’d, he takes a moment to write a brief note to the effect of “Dear Ella, I am in a burning shack and about to be shot to bits. Whoopsie Daisy. Love, Nathan”. He then exits the shack to meet a sustained volley of gunfire that’s self-parodic in nature. He’s getting shot for almost as long as that poor Omnicorp schlub in the botched ED209 demo in Robocop.
As a film looking to demystify and unromance the Wild West, it makes no bones about how rough a life it was, being a non-stop parade of fights, murder, death, abuse and intolerance, and there’s a nice contrast between the beauty of the landscape and the ugliness of the battles. However, the closest Heaven’s Gate come to the literal truth of the Wild West is that there is some documentary evidence of the country called “America” existing in this timeframe, and on the balance of probability there was a place called “Wyoming”. Everything else is a complete work of fiction. Fiction, perhaps, in service of a greater truth, but on its own terms, a whopping fib.
This was universally critically reviled on its release, although there’s been a few pushes now and then to re-appraise this, the BBC even going so far as to put it on a list of the 100 best American films. The truth, or my truth at least, lies between the extremes, but probably closer to the naysayers than the revisionists. The odd thing is the further I get from watching it, the lower my opinion of it gets – just after watching I remember thinking that the incredible cinematography can forgive it the bulk of its narrative sins, but the scenery is fading while the story is decomposing abnormally swiftly.
There’s an entire podcast to be had in the fallout from this film, most obviously the commercial failure of film. Running massively over schedule and budget, due in no small to Cimino’s exacting standards having things like a street set moved six feet apart – by dismantling both sides and moving them three feet rather than just moving one side six feet, because Cimino is certifiable. Possibly related rumours abound of a good chunk of that $40 million odd budget being “craft services” of the inhalable kind. The snowballing budget combined with a critical reception that’s not so much frosty as it is approaching zero degrees Kelvin meant that this wasn’t ever going to make its money back, particularly after being pulled after a couple of weeks.
Its failure is commonly held as the reason United Artists failed, although the reality is a little more complex. At the time UA was owed by the Transamerica conglomerate and $40 million was barely a blip on their overall radar, but the huge amount of negative publicity was enough to encourage Transamerica to sell it on, which actually saved the brand name, as before this Transamerica had plans to effectively change the studio name to Transamerica Films or something similar. Selling the brand to MGM actually preserved the name, so if you’re feeling particularly perverse you could argue that Heaven’s Gate‘s failure saved the studio, rather than dooming it.
It’s also seen as the beginning of the end of the American New Wave, or New Hollywood, as combined with a couple of other flops the studios started to wind these maverick directors back in and put them on a leash, but I think one that still afforded a bit more play than before. Realistically, the studios were unlikely to allow directors sole oversight on spending so much of their money for so long, so this may have accelerated this though process on the studio’s part but I’m pretty sure it didn’t originate it.
It’s also blamed for putting a bit of a brake on production of Westerns, but that’s more of a timing issue, as far as I can see. Look at the lists of Westerns released around this time and you’ll see a good number of “comedy” Westerns and a few terrible traditional westerns, and a few very early revisionist Westerns, like as this film, none of which did much business. The genre was over-fished, and needed some time off to replenish its stocks. I wonder how this would have played if released a decade or so later, where you’d start to see a renewed appetite for at least the occasional revisionist Western.
Heaven’s Gate appears to also be the reason you see the “no animals harmed as part of this production”, as this film seems to have gone out of its way to harm animals, including what appears to be a legit cockfight on film, and reports of arguably worse happening behind the scenes, like draining blood from a live horse to bloody up some extras. Even as someone not exactly onboard the PETA train, this is reprehensible, unethical behaviour.
So then, it’s one of the most interesting films to talk about we’ve covered, although almost none of that is because of what’s shown up on screen. Still, for a film buff of the type who listens to, say, podcasts about films, it’s certainly worth watching, even if it’s not recommendable in the traditional sense.
It was five years before anyone wanted to give Cimino another chance in the director’s chair, but it seems Dino De Laurentiis had been eager for Cimino to adapt this novel for some time, and I eventually Cimino agreed. Due to time constraints he convinced Oliver Stone, just off the back of writing Scarface, to help on the condition that De Laurentiis agree to fund and let Stone direct Platoon, which De Laurentiis would later renege on. But we’re talking about events surrounding the film itself again, rather than the film, so let’s refocus.
New Chinatown police captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) has decided to replicate the hard-boiled, no compromise attitude he cultivated elsewhere in the city to one of the most corrupt area in town. The police have an uneasy agreement with the Triad gangs running the usual mix of gambling dens, protection rackets and drug peddling, the police leaving them to their “traditional” role for an easy life.
While the various Triad heads have different ideas on how to respond to this threat, the one that makes his voice heard clearest is the young, ambitious, ruthless Joey Tai (John Lone). He pushes for the gangs to take even greater control, and to start pushing into territory held by the Mafia and other organised crime outfits. White can’t have this, starting an escalating circle of violence that’s all a bit Hard Boiled. As in the John Woo sense, not the Noir sense. Although that’s just as applicable, really.
There’s sub-plots aplenty, from the attempt at infiltrating the Triad with a rookie undercover cop, to White’s infatuation with a Chinese-American reporter Tracy Tzu (Ariane Koizumi) and the strain that puts on his relationship with long-suffering wife Connie (Caroline Kava). There’s plenty of political pressure too, with the mayoral branch presented as being in the pocket of the Triads. There’s a good amount of content here, but it doesn’t feel like it’s merged together particularly coherently.
For example, at one point more or less out of nowhere White launches on a spiel about how Chinese labourers were discriminated against and marginalised during the construction of the railroads. While, unlike the entirety of Heaven’s Gate this is actually historically accurate, it feels shoehorned into the narrative entirely inorganically. There’s not much flow to the film, and it feels like something that’s thrown together rather than crafted.
According to the internet’s arbiter of ultimate truths, Wikipedia, this film is amongst other thing intended as an exploration of ethnicity, racism, and stereotypes. This is presumably the same thing that’s said about Roy “Chubby” Brown, or Andrew “Dice” Clay, or the Ku-Klux Klan. Casual racism and epithets are strewn about this film with gay abandon, which we are apparently to excuse by White’s referring to himself in the same terms also. I guess it going to a defence of “it’s not racist if you just hate everyone”, and, well, nice try, but that doesn’t wash. Perhaps I’m just a bleeding heart, ivory tower liberal, but I rather prefer it when we’re not throwing venom at groups of people. Partially, I suppose, that’s the point of writing it this way – we’re not supposed to have any sympathy for the gangs, after all, but the use of language is not really examined by the film at any point, so it just winds up being another element that sits uncomfortably in the mix of the film.
That’s more time than a minor point deserves, but to be honest I struggle to come up with a great deal of noteworthy points about Year of the Dragon. It’s an entertaining enough watch first time through, although it’s not the sort of film that warrants repeat viewing. Rourke doesn’t give a bad turn, exactly, but he’s a little undermined by playing a character that’s supposed to be fifteen years older than he is, and he gives the impression of a child wearing his fathers’ clothes. Ariane Koizumi as the love interest is one of those rare instances where her Razzie actually seems well-deserved, and as best as I can gather she went back to modelling after this and how she got though a screen test is a mystery to me. The rest of the support is fine, although barely featured – it’s very much a Mickey Rourke vehicle, from the time when such a beast still roamed the lands, and it’s living or dying by his performance. A performance which is, well, fine, I suppose. Good enough, but not a neo-noir classic by any stretch of the imagination.
While it wasn’t commercially successful, in part because of protest from Asian American groups due to the language used and the possible negative effect it would have on tourism if people believed it was a routine occurrence for automatic weapon-based slaughter to be on the menu at Chinese restaurants, it earned mixed but mostly positive reviews, and Cimino managed to bring the project in on time and budget, which must have gone some way to rehabbing his reputation at the studios.
Two years later and Cimino’s broken free of the studio soundstages he was largely confined to in Year of the Dragon for another sprawling, on location epic, The Sicilian, based on Godfather author Mario Puzo’s book about Salvatore Guiliano, the real life gangster with a mythos that has a touch of Robin Hood about him.
Now, of course, when you think about casting a character with the description of “Sicilian Gangster”, you naturally think of French, well, let’s call him an actor, Christopher Lambert. Of course. Who else? Anyway, he takes the role of Guiliano, initially a black marketeer smuggling food into heavily rationed villages during WW2 under the nose of the government. He’s busted during one of his runs with his cousin and best friend Gaspare “Aspanu” Pisciotta (John Turturro), leading to a shootout that sees him critically wounded and a police officer dead.
Piscotta takes him to a local monastery where he recovers, but realises he’s now a wanted outlaw. Guiliano and Piscotta escape to the Cammaratta Mountains, and the two eventually hatch a plan to set up in the organised crime business for themselves. They start freeing prisoners and stealing grain from local landed gentry and distributing them amongst the poor, increasing his fame and causing others to flock to his banners.
He grows more confident and audacious with each action, which soon winds up with him in the crosshairs of the Church, the State and the Mafia, all of whom he refuses to bow to. This sets him on a collision course with these groups who attempt to remove the threat he faces in various ways, making Guiliano rightly more paranoid as time goes on.
There’s a sub plot in here somewhere about a love interest, but it’s so wildly underdeveloped that I can remember no details about it whatsoever.
Now, there’s not a great deal of point picking over the minutiae of how this film has turned out, because there’s the rather glaring central fact that somehow, presumably on a dare, Christopher Lambert was cast as the lead in this film. In terms of effect, you might as well have cast Pee Wee Herman as the lead, or Rod Hull, or Emu, all of which might have delivered slightly more convincing central performances than the slowly unfolding train-wreck that’s found its way on screen.
I mean, the rest of the cast are generally fine, although probably only just fine, which is disappointing when you’ve got the likes of Terence Stamp parading about. Cimino was coming under terrible pressure to cut this film down in running time, and for once I wish this had a bit more room to breathe. While Heaven’s Gate spent a lot of time on nothing consequential, this runs at the opposite end of the spectrum, crashing on through events making it hard to get a feel of the timeframe we’re talking about in the film. It seems unduly compressed.
But, as mentioned, that’s not all that important. This film lives or dies on Lambert’s performance and charisma, neither of which showed up for the party. He’s dire, and so sadly the entire film is dragged down to his level – a pity, as this is a story that has real potential. Who wouldn’t like Robin Hood mashed up with The Godfather? But The Sicilian is a banal, lifeless mess. Cimino’s weakest film so far.
A remake of the 1955 Humphrey Bogart vehicle, which I confess I have not seen, was next for Cimino, and it must be said that it seems he’s finally taken on board Clint Eastwood’s advice after Heaven’s Gate, to go off and direct a small scale, more intimate movie. He’s tapped up Mickey Rourke to play sociopathic convict Michael Bosworth, who escapes from prison with the help of his defence lawyer Nancy Breyers (Kelly Lynch), who for reasons the film does not see fit to tell us is in love with him. He leaves her behind with orders to say he forced her at gunpoint to help him, with instructions to join him later on.
Bosworth is soon reunited with his brother Wally (Elias Koteas), and their dim-witted partner Albert (David Morse), and they look for a place to lay low, settling more or less at random on the home of Tim Cornell (Anthony Hopkins) and his family. Tim was previously busy trying to repair his relationship to estranged wife Nora (Mimi Rogers), but they find themselves hostage in their own homes, plotting a way to escape or overpower the three men invading their home.
Meanwhile, the Feds have not been convinced in the slightest by Nancy’s act, leading to them convincing her to betray Bosworth in return for a lighter sentence. They soon enough find out where he’s went to and arrive en masse for a spot of the old sieging, and, well, you can guess how that ends up.
There’s been a small degree of truncation in this plot recap, in the main to gloss over events a few events that don’t make a great deal of sense even in the full context of the film. Surprise surprise, Cimino had another battle over the cut of the film and lost, with him claiming that the producers butchered it. There’s perhaps some sympathy with this, as if nothing else it would explain the uneven, choppy pacing that doesn’t flow at all well.
This perhaps also marks the time that Michael Cimino was either suffered hearing loss, or perhaps had some sort of bizarre injury that destroyed his ability to select appropriate scores for films, as both his final film and in particular this film have ludicrous, intrusive, bombastic scores that overwhelm the performances and gives everything a horrible melodramatic tone that undercuts the rest of the film’s narrative.
Which, it must be said, was doing a good enough job of doing itself in, with no real drama or intrigue to speak of. The characters are uniformly flat and lifeless, and we’d learn nothing about any of these characters if they didn’t have someone outright read the dramatis personae for them. It’s particularly obnoxious in Bosworth’s case, who we’re informed has a genius level intellect. We have to be informed this, because there’s not a shred of evidence for that assertion in the rest of the script. It should be noted that this screenplay was written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who were both convicted of writing Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
You’d think this cast, even if we’re only talking about Rourke and Hopkins would have enough charisma and talent between them to provide some interest, but Rouke’s off chewing the scenery and Hopkins seems bored of the work entirely. I can’t say I blame him. The two leads might as well be in different film for all the chemistry they have, and the supporting cast are playing below par also.
This sort of home invasion film has had something of a renaissance in recent years, but even if they’ve whetted your appetite this is by no means recommended viewing. I’ve not seen the original, but it surely can’t be any worse than this, so perhaps seek that out instead, or a similar level of enjoyment can be had from a hot knife and a spot of DIY gelding. Do not watch.
We round out this look at Cimino’s work with his final full length feature, The Sunchaser. Woody Harrelson plays Dr. Michael Reynolds, a successful oncologist who seems to be on track for a promotion which will no doubt help with the repayments on his flash car. This future is derailed when a juvenile prisoner, Jon Seda’s Brandon ‘Blue’ Monroe is brought in to see him.
Discovering that he has mere weeks to live, Blue stages a breakout and takes Reynolds hostage, starting out on a trip across country to the lands of his Navajo ancestors with the whacked out notion of salvation at the top of a mountain, and a lake that a book promises will cure him better than any of the chemotherapy garbage.
Reynolds is forced to go along with this, but over the course of the trip the two bond and when Blue’s condition worsens, Reynolds breaks the law himself to help Blue reach his goal. The reasons for their bonding or for a medical professional to go along with this magical claptrap remain unexamined by the film.
Narratively this is again quite stripped back, and I get the impression that this is supposed to be overflowing with character, but Jon Seda is not up to the task, and while external evidence would make you think Harrelson would be able to cut this mustard – this was the same year he appeared in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, he does not. There is no mustard cut at all during the production of this film. All mustard remained entirely intact and roundly uncut.
Falling somewhere, awkwardly, between a road trip, hostage drama, mysticism and buddy flick, the plot does not convince in the slightest, and the characters are difficult if not impossible to warm to. The whole endeavour seems roundly amateurish, with only a few of Cimino’s beautiful nature shots towards the end of the film giving you any indication that this is a film from an Oscar winning director and not some made for TV, Hallmark channel production line schedule filler.
If Heaven’s Gate could be characterised by how interesting a film it is to think about on pretty much every level, it’s sad that Cimino’s later career and Sunchaser in particular give us so little to talk about. There’s not even a gloriously failed execution of a grand idea. This is a small film, with small ideas, and doesn’t do even those justice. According to Box Office Mojo, this film’s domestic total gross was under $22,000, sneaking out for one week in 23 cinemas. Going out with a barely heard whimper than a bang, it doesn’t seem exactly fitting given the heights Cimino reached, or strived to reach. But it’s hard to argue that Sunchaser deserves anything other than to be roundly ignored.
Right, that’s your lot. Find your hook and sling it.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed today, please hit us up on Twitter (@fudsonfilm), on Facebook (facebook.com/fudsonfilm), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to receive our podcast on a regular basis, please add our feed to your podcasting software of choice, or subscribe on iTunes. If you could see your way clear to leaving a review on iTunes, we’d be eternally grateful, but we won’t blame you if you don’t. We’ll be back with you on the 10th with a look at Manhunter and Red Dragon, but until then, take care of yourself, and each other.