Sweet Vengeance (a.k.a Sweetwater), 2013.
Directed by Logan Miller.
Starring Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs, January Jones, Eduardo Noriega, Jason Aldean, Vic Browder, Chad Brummett and Jenny Gabrielle.
In the late 1800s, a fanatical religious leader, a renegade Sheriff, and a former prostitute collide in a blood triangle on the rugged plains of the New Mexico Territory.
It’s baffling to think any film would find backing based on a terrible script. And yet, Sweet Vengeance exists, another puzzling addition to the host of pictures coming regularly out of America which fundamentally don’t understand cinema. Pictures which in turn beg the question: how did these ever get made?
But it’d be cruel to accuse Sweet Vengeance of being a failure owing to its script only. It’s also horribly directed, lacquered with a heavy sheen of religious symbolism, complete with a plot that eschews logic wherever possible and a cast that’s as hopelessly disconnected from one another as they are from the material.
One such cast member, Eduardo Noriega, seems more focused on getting his tongue around the English dialogue than doing any legitimate emoting. He’s not average, or even banal – Noriega is a handsome extra upgraded to main speaking role. Better, but not by a long way, is the ineffective January Jones, though she is saddled with a character that exists solely to mete out punishment while looking pretty. If director Logan Miller wanted a lead for us to invest in, he was looking in the wrong place when he picked the icy, unknowable Jones to anchor his film.
Sweet Vengeance’s two supporting men, of whom the film seems considerably more enamoured than it is with its lead, are what make the film even remotely watchable. Jason Isaacs’ preacher Josiah is sadistic without reason, but he’s entertaining, as is Ed Harris as the new sheriff in town, with both of them given permission to indulge like never before. They frankly both look ridiculous, Harris resembling an ancient blues musician (but sounding uncannily like Billy Bob Thornton) and Isaacs decked out like he’s in a Black Sabbath tribute band, but there’s fun to be had in watching them gamely put huge black marks on their CVs.
Every performer to a man moves curiously in Sweet Vengeance, with everyone’s actions appearing so enormously rehearsed that you can feel Miller making directions behind the camera. It’s a sensation that throws you off-balance at any moment you might consider trying to get involved in the story. Not that you could, given Miller’s skill, or lack thereof, of assembling a cohesive narrative. Scenes don’t feel connected, being rather a scattering of related moments laid out in linear fashion. There’s no flow.
Worse, the scenery and sets are lifeless. Even a supposed mass gathering outside Josiah’s church feels dead. The photography is bland for the most part, though the overcast skies may be an intentional signal of the film’s apocalyptic themes. I can’t tell you for sure, because the tone is all over the place, zig-zagging between campy absurdity and serious melodrama. This is a film which sees a world-weary sheriff debate the merits of world religion before a road lined with towering crosses, but also where a man gets shot up the anus.
The oscillating tone of the film’s first half could be forgiven, maybe, if the payoff at least offered something exciting. But when the ‘sweet vengeance’ finally comes, it’s wholly uninteresting. It’s the final insult to the viewer, who has to sit through an hour of messy dialogue scenes only to find the director forgot to make his final showdown in any way compelling. There’s no big gunfight, just a series of cold killings by Jones’ wronged housewife that do what no revenge movie should ever, ever do: make you question what enjoyment you ever got out of watching someone go brutally postal on a bunch of bad guys in the first place.
The dialogue isn’t all bad. It’s occasionally inventively sinister (Isaacs’ Josiah tells a strung-up Harris “Now you shall hang there in shame, until the sun dries your testicles into leather-hide, and the ravens peck you apart”), but even that outstays its welcome far too often (“Peck, peck, peck, peck! A thousand pecks of shame!” Isaacs continues, ruining his own moment).
It’s needless to say that, in a film this joyless, any violence feels gratuitous, though certain scenes – such as when Harris goes rooting around a man’s bowels for a bullet – feel extended simply to give the audience its pound of blood. The nudity is similarly pointless; just what required January Jones to go topless during a shootout, other than the desire to make the Mad Men star’s nudity one of the film’s selling points?
Ex-hooker with a gun, taking names in the Old West – sounds fun, doesn’t it? Not according to director Logan Miller it’s not, who doesn’t know what to do with his concept beyond letting it spiral out of his control from the get-go. Thanks to two scenery-devouring performances, Sweet Vengeance isn’t boring, thankfully. But it is confused, uninventive, uninspiring and – most of all – ludicrous. There’s a scene where Ed Harris’ Sheriff Jackson takes a break from his duties to dance at sunset. All you can do is ask yourself “why?” The same could be asked of the entire film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Brogan Morris – Lover of film, writer of words, pretentious beyond belief. Thinks Scorsese and Kubrick are the kings of cinema, but PT Anderson and David Fincher are the young princes. Follow Brogan on Twitter if you can take shameless self-promotion.