MRR Review: "Sweetwater"

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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.
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MRR Review: "Sweetwater"

Rating: R Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 11, 2013
Directed by: Logan Miller
Genre: Thriller / Western

Moviegoers often love a good western when times are tough. The movies remind fans that, when they put on their hats, pull up their bootstraps, and barrel ahead, they can tackle almost any challenge. "Sweetwater" continues that theme with its stark contrast between good and evil even when it takes jabs at organized religion and becomes a bit preachy at times. This is a bit of a dangerous area given the stereotypical audience for the western genre, but "Sweetwater" dances around dangerous pitfalls by ensuring viewers know who wears the white hats and who wears the black; however, it sometimes forgets to add suspense as a solid thriller should.

The story of "Sweetwater" is one that has appeared time and time again, but it includes a few twists that allow it to captivate a new audience. The evil villain at the heart of the story is Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs) who claims the town for his own and literally gets away with murder for quite some time. After eliminating Miguel (Eduardo Noriega), the husband of pregnant Sarah (January Jones), he finds himself tracked and hunted by Sarah and the town's new Sheriff, Jackson (Ed Harris). This may seem like a traditional and overdone version of many common western movie plots, but its execution is exceptional.

The powerful acting in the film gives it much of its punch. Jones and Harris are an excellent duo, easily lending a strength to their characters that allows them to carry the film from start to finish. Isaacs only occasionally falls into the stereotype of a mustache-twirling villain, delivering a solid portrayal of what could easily become a cardboard character. The supporting cast members lend their exceptional abilities to solidifying the overall acting in the movie with notable performances from Luce Rains, Noah Miller, and Chad Brummett.

The cinematography of the film is top notch. The cameras capture the traditional setting of small town life and cattle ranching, using both modern and traditional formats. This allows the movie to hearken back to the days of John Wayne and Roy Rogers without sacrificing its modern values. Similarly, the lighting and audio are both spot on. The audio is most noticeable during intense scenes involving the villain and protagonist where everyone in the audience is likely waiting with baited breath for a pin to drop and guns to begin firing. These are the times when it reaches its most suspenseful moments.

The script of "Sweetwater" is one of the areas where it often stumbles. The dialogue is exceptional, lending further credence to the abilities and power of the main characters, but the actions taken by each character often land them firmly in stereotype or trope territory. The evil religious leader is constantly the theme of the film, which takes more than a few jabs at organized religion and belief as a whole. This results in some exceptionally preachy moments, which are made all the more poignant by the fact that the allegedly religious man is himself deeply entrenched in the wrongdoing throughout the town. Similarly, the main protagonists are often themselves cast in too good and moral a light, and unlike Rooster Cogburn who had obvious faults and was still a hero of the Old West, these characters can do no wrong when tackling the evils of the wicked preacher.

The direction of the film definitely alludes to early spaghetti western days. Miller tries to encapsulate the fictional days when good and evil were clearly defined and the bad guys dressed and acted the part at every available turn. The combination of this dichotomy with the somewhat preachy nature of the script may bother some fans, however, as it often wanders into accusatory territory. Where the direction best shines is when Miller turns to more modern storytelling and western genre tropes. Borrowing a page from "Sukiyaki Western Django," he employs nonstop action between dialogue scenes and keeps things moving at a brisk pace sure to keep fans riveted for most of the film.

"Sweetwater" is not without its flaws, but as a modern western film, it falls nicely into the niche. Those looking for a fun night out with friends may enjoy the nonstop action, and the political commentary may not bother all viewers. For those who miss the days of John Wayne and the other heroes from America's troubled times who took to the saddle and reminded people of the country's heritage, the film is likely to remind them of the good old days of westerns. The movie is likely to find a home in the collections of western fans, though those looking for a more serious thriller may not enjoy it as much.

Rating: 3 out of 5