Heaven's Gate

"Grim"

Heaven's Gate Review


Heaven's Gate is not, as its reputation suggests, the worst Hollywood movie ever made. Looked at in a certain light it even has some brilliance to it, and at stray moments you can even forget that Michael Cimino's film is now a three-and-a-half-hour metaphor for the hubris of ego and the dangers of not watching your budget. (Heaven's Gate had an original budget of $7.5 million, eventually cost a whopping $44 million, took in less than $2 million at the box office, financially kneecapped United Artists, and scotched Cimino's career as a director. The gory details, wonderfully told, are all in the book Final Cut, written by then-UA production exec Steven Bach.) Strip away the behind-the-scenes story, and Heaven's Gate is an enigma, as difficult to like as it is to dismiss. It is arrogant and it is beautiful. It is thematically clever and rhetorically dull. It is sensitive and it is condescending. It has enormous ambition and winds up with nothing to say. Eventually, it's just sadly exhausting.

One thing's for certain: Kris Kristofferson is blameless. A solid if not terribly nuanced actor, he plays James Averill, an upstanding marshal who arrives Johnson County, Wyoming to investigate rumors of turmoil there. It's worse than he imagines; as the station agent explains when Averill arrives, Johnson County (not Cimino) has become "the asshole of creation," thanks to ongoing bloodshed between wealthy WASP landowners and the immigrant settlers who try to work their small parcels of land. The landowners are led by the obscenely amoral Frank Canton (Sam Waterston, razor-sharp), who draws up a "death list" of 125 Johnson County residents who are legally approved to be killed under false accusations of thievery.

On the list is Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert), the local whore who's beloved by Averill but also courted by Canton's lackey and Averill's old friend Nate Champion (Christopher Walken). The personal and political tensions gather steam until the film's conclusion, a half-hour bloodbath that features at least half a dozen poor decisions about plot (including one, involving a suicide, that's completely indefensible). Like The Deer Hunter, Cimino's previous film, Heaven's Gate is supposed to be an allegorical tale about how easily American pluralism can shift into authoritarianism. But Cimino has no real feel for his characters - the immigrants who are supposed to be the heroes are given to us as a weeping, screaming mass. Kristofferson's Averill is appropriately stoic, but he lacks layers. And Huppert's casting as Ella was an enormous misstep. Speaking in a French accent so thick it's occasionally indecipherable, she's a weak actress in a role that's completely wrong for her. Plus, because she's supposed to be the fulcrum between Averill and Champion, she winds up dulling those two characters as well.

Now, you're probably thinking: What would help here is weighing down the movie with a half-hour introduction set 20 years earlier that sheds precisely no light on the main plot. More than the acting and the script, it's the structure of Heaven's Gate that botches the film. To be fair, much of the movie looks utterly gorgeous, and Cimino (along with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond) meticulously crafted dozens of shots that look as well-lit and well-composed as paintings. The size of the Great Plains are exploited well in the panoramic shots of the region, capturing the sky, mountains, and general enormity of the landscape. And however foolhardy Cimino's accounting was, the money is there on the screen. The shots of Casper, stuffed full of extras and with buildings stretching far into the distance, give a real sense of both the place and its lawlessness.

But those strengths never congeal into a solid narrative; it's just Cimino showing off how big he is. The only version that now makes the rounds on video is 219 minutes long, the same one that was first released in 1980 and panned mercilessly; a later release cut out over an hour. But getting rid of some length doesn't help here, in the same way that cutting off an arm doesn't help when the cancer's spread to the whole body. Cimino doesn't seem to know the people he's putting on screen, and worse he doesn't seem to like them much. The same confused contempt he seemed to have for the townspeople in The Deer Hunter bled into Heaven's Gate as well. A misanthrope to the core, there was no way his attitude could make an effective, trustworthy story about America. Cimino had artistry in spades, but he had no art.



Heaven's Gate

Facts and Figures

Run time: 219 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 19th November 1980

Box Office Worldwide: $3.5M

Budget: $44M

Distributed by: MGM/UA

Production compaines: United Artists

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 17

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as James Averill, as Nathan D. Champion, as Billy Irvine, as Ella Watson, as Frank Canton, as Mr. Eggleston, as John L. Bridges, as The Reverend Doctor, as Major Wolcott, as Mayor Charlie Lezak, as Trapper Fred, as Cully, Mary Catherine Wright as Nell, as Small man, as Capt. Minardi, as Morrison, Robin Bartlett as Mrs. Lezak, as Jake, as Stefka, as Nick Ray

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Zoolander 2 Movie Review

Zoolander 2 Movie Review

With virtually the same blend of wit and idiocy as the 2001 original, this fashion-scene...

A Bigger Splash Movie Review

A Bigger Splash Movie Review

Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) reteams with Tilda Swinton for this fresh, tricky...

Deadpool Movie Review

Deadpool Movie Review

Both the filmmakers and the characters on-screen are so pleased with themselves that this might...

Trumbo Movie Review

Trumbo Movie Review

An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton...

Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps Movie Review

Mixing the action, comedy and horror from novelist R.L. Stein's books into a family-friendly package,...

Dad's Army Movie Review

Dad's Army Movie Review

The beloved 1970s British sit-com gets the big screen treatment, although there's been very little...

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight Movie Review

This film demonstrates that you don't need guns to make an exciting thriller. Based on...

Advertisement
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

Not the subtlest director working in Hollywood, Michael Bay brings his surging machismo to this...

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

There's nothing clever about this deliberately rude and vulgar comedy, but certain audiences will find...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

The 5th Wave Movie Review

The 5th Wave Movie Review

Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels...

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following...

Room Movie Review

Room Movie Review

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events...

Creed Movie Review

Creed Movie Review

While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps...

A Perfect Day Movie Review

A Perfect Day Movie Review

An irreverent comedy in the style of the original M.A.S.H., this wartime romp takes an...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.