Heaven's Gate

1980

Heaven's Gate

Critics Consensus

Heaven's Gate contains too many ideas and striking spectacle to be a disaster, but this western buckles under the weight of its own sprawl.

57%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 42

54%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,425
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Heaven's Gate Photos

Movie Info

A notorious artistic and financial failure, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate was blamed for critically wounding the movie Western and definitively ushering out the 1970s Hollywood New Wave of young, brash, independent filmmakers. Taking a revisionist, post-Vietnam view of American imperialism, Cimino used the historical Johnson County War incident in Wyoming to create an impressionistic tapestry of Western conflict between poor immigrant settlers and rich cattle barons led by Canton (Sam Waterston) and his hired gun Nate Champion (Christopher Walken). Attempting to mediate is idealistic Harvard graduate and county marshal Averill (Kris Kristofferson), who is both Nate's friend and his romantic rival for the affections of Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert). However, war erupts, at great cost to all involved. Flush from his success with the Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter (1978), Cimino demanded creative control, and his insistence on shooting on location and building historically accurate sets and props multiplied the film's original budget to a then-astronomical $36 million. When United Artists premiered the original 219-minute version (sight unseen), they discovered that Cimino had produced an elliptical epic, compounding the box-office difficulties of making a Western without any major stars. Critics howled about Cimino's incomprehensible self-indulgence, and United Artists pulled the film after several days. Re-released five months later, 70 minutes shorter, Heaven's Gate bombed again, and MGM bought out the financially crippled United Artists. The ailing Western genre virtually vanished during the 1980s, Cimino's career never recovered, and Hollywood studios had had enough of bankrolling financially risky ventures by "auteur" directors. Heaven's Gate's reputation recovered somewhat after its video release, as it garnered praise from some viewers for such visually remarkable sequences as the Harvard dance and the final battle, as well as for David Mansfield's haunting score. Steven Bach's book Final Cut provides a full production history. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi

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Cast

Kris Kristofferson
as James Averill
Christopher Walken
as Nathan D. Champion
John Hurt
as Billy Irvine
Sam Waterston
as Frank Canton
Isabelle Huppert
as Ella Watson
Jeff Bridges
as John H. Bridges
Joseph Cotten
as `The Reverend Doctor'
Roseanne Vela
as Beautiful Girl
Rosie Vela
as Beautiful Girl
Paul Koslo
as Mayor Lezak
Stefan Scherby
as Large Man
Waldemar Kalinowski
as Photographer
Terry O'Quinn
as Capt. Minardi
John Conley
as Morrison
Margaret Benczak
as Mrs. Eggleston
James Knobeloch
as Kopestonsky
Erika Petersen
as Mrs. Kopestonsky
Robin Bartlett
as Mrs. Lezak
Marat Yusim
as Russian Merchant
Aivars Smits
as Mr. Kovach
Gordana Rashovich
as Mrs. Kovach
Jarlath Conroy
as Mercenary in New Suit
Anna Levine
as Little Dot
Pat Hodges
as Jessie
Mickey Rourke
as Nick Ray
Kai Wulff
as German Merchant
Steve Majstorovic
as Czech Merchant
Gabriel Walsh
as Zindel's Clerk
T-Bone Burnett
as Member of the Heaven's Gate Band
Jack Blessing
as Emigrant Boy
Stephen Bruton
as Member of the Heaven's Gate Band
Jerry Sullivan
as Governor of Wyoming
David Cass Sr.
as Moustached Mercenary
Paul D'Amato
as Bearded Mercenary
Anatoly Davydov
as Fighting Bulgarian Emigrant
Nina Gaidarova
as Bulgarian Emigrant's Wife
Wally McCleskey
as Chicken Fighter
Gary 'Buzz' Vezane
as Canton's Bodyguard
H.P. Evetts
as Wolcott's Bodyguard
Bruce Morgan
as Miner Mercenary
Bobby Faber
as Harvard Class Marshal
Judy Trot
as Irvine's Girlfriend
Brad Dourif
as Mr. Eggleston
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Critic Reviews for Heaven's Gate

All Critics (42) | Top Critics (12)

Audience Reviews for Heaven's Gate

  • Jun 19, 2014
    Michael Cimino's disgustingly ambitious epic: - Has Kris Kristofferson. - Has Christopher Walken - Has John Hurt - Has Jeff Bridges - Has Brad Dourif - Has Mickey Rourke - Has Isabelle Huppert in all her female glory... for the hundredth time - Runs for 219 minutes - Has an intermission - Is notorious for being an infamous financial disaster - Costed $36,000,000.00 in 1980's terms - Initially left United Artists financially crippled - Got criticized by critics under terms of "self-indulgence" - Was nominated for only one Academy Award - Recently got a Criterion Collection release - Has a 6.7 rating in IMDB, and therefore... - ...is underrated Michael Cimino constructs a fully committed essay about American imperialism disguised as a plot of European immigrants seeking for a better life in the American frontier. The real-life setting of 1890's Wyoming and the consequent War of Johnson County were perfect excuses for everything that the film contains... and did. Repeatedly, and pretty much intentionally, the movie lingers in several sequences as in attempts to contemplate its own impressionistic visual grandiosity. Normally, I would codemn such cinematic ego, but truth to be told, the scope is so massive that the expansion of certain sequences is completely justified just for the sake of escapism and appreciation. In essence, the size of the experience provided mimics Sergio Leone's <i>Once Upon a Time in America</i> (1984) in many aspects, most of them emotional (as in the nostalghia evoked) and technical, mostly regarding the impressionistic cinematography. Both projects feel like a master's farewell; ironically enough, this was barely Cimino's third feature. With a development of events that guarantees entertainment throughout its epic running time, <i>Heaven's Gate</i> is a worthy restoration of the classic days of epic moviemaking of classic Hollywood with anti-Hollywood, somewhat European tints, deserving of more reputation than the one it has received. I must accept that the story could have been shortened at least one full hour, but why do that when the directorial vision is properly applied and the stars' alignment was exact for using such a tremendous budget? 86/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Jun 12, 2014
    Lives up to its reputation of being a bomb. There aren't too many redeeming qualities to take from this wreckage.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 05, 2013
    worth watching but much of the criticism is well founded imo. every scene goes on too long. period detail is exquisite and it's one of the most beautiful films i've seen but everything here is just too big. the story needed more focus. maybe a great two hour film in here somewhere
    Stella D Super Reviewer
  • Jul 05, 2012
    "Knock-knock-knockin' on Heaven's gate!" Hey, if you're gonna follow Bob Dylan's lead, then proceed with caution when knocking on Heaven's door, or rather, Heaven's gate, because you may go in for a cult film and end up in a cult religion. Don't worry, I can see how you would make the mistake though, not just because of the name similarities, but because although the Heaven's Gate cult, to my knowledge, doesn't sacrifice animals (They believe that the apocalypse will be the justified cleansing of Earth from the universe, and thirty-nine of them offed themselves in order to contact aliens, so they still aren't one of your more relatively sane religious groups), many religious cults do, and I'll be struck down if the makers of this film weren't accused of bleeding horses without pain killers and blowing another one up on camera. Man, forget deer, it sounds like Michael Cimino is more into horse hunting, and is pretty hardcore about it too, though believe me, this film isn't quite as exciting as it sounds, and if you thought that "The Deer Hunter", the film considered by many to be Cimino's masterpiece, was boring as all get-out (I still liked it, but come on, Mike, pick up the pace!), then just wait until you see this film that's over three-and-a-half hours and considered by many to be so boring that people wouldn't go see it when it was only two-and-a-half hours in the theaters. Okay, maybe it's no slower than "The Deer Hunter", though that does still mean that it gets to be way too slow and way too long at over three-and-a-half hours, so one can only imagine what it was like to sit through that behemoth of a five-and-a-half-hour-long workprint cut. Actually, forget y'all, I would like to find out, because I don't have much else going on, yet still don't get enough sleep. No, again, this film isn't that dull, yet make no mistake, as good as this film actually is (Forget you, Razzies), this is still the guy who made "The Deer Hunter", so it can only go so far without hitting a dry spell, and let me tell you, it doesn't really go all that far before falling into that certain flaw. Now, the film isn't quite like "2001: A Space Odyssey", where it's just meditating on some unnecessary bull for twenty minutes on end (I mean figurative bull, though if this film were to superfluously meditate on any kind of animal, it would probably a horse, as if to say, "You're next"), yet the film suffers from many a long period of too much focus on absolutely nothing, and with not oomph enough oomph in the atmosphere during those "occasions" (I don't know if I should use that word, because occasion insinuates that those moments only come in occasionally), things slow to a disengaging, if not rather boring crawl, even when the thing that the film is meditating upon a distractingly noisy environment that sometimes drowns out the dialogue when people finally get around to talking. Still, when the background noise dies down and dialogue is brought to the forefront, things don't get a whole heck of a lot better, because when the dialogue is really out at the forefront, that people stands alone. I don't know about you guys, but maybe Michael Cimino's taste in sound design is a little bit too good, though by 1980, it still had enough limitations tinning things up (Maybe they should have talked to a certain fellow Italian, because Coppola didn't seem to have that problem too much with "Apocalypse Now" in '79), thus creating a kind of white noise that may leave the dialogue to come in loud and about as clear as it could be in 1980 (Or at least when there's no infernal background noise that's hardly in the background and drowns most everything out), yet still kind of lull along in pitch, with not enough background oomph drowning out said white noise. As if that's not enough kids, Cimino even drags the dialogue piece out, like he does most everything else. Good lord, somebody better find that five-and-a-half hour cut, because I've got to see that sucker, just out of morbid curiosity, because, as I said, this film is much too slow and much too long at 219 minutes, alone, and even when this film does slow down on the slowing down, things are still overdrawn to where things don't neccessarily dull down, though still lose some steam. The final product just comes out as an often kind of dull and thoroughly overdrawn experience that doesn't quite live up to some reasonably promising potential, though there is that one key questions still remaining: Is it really that much of a failure for Cimino? Hey, "The Deer Hunter" seemed to make it out okay, and this film does just the same, maybe being more likely to literally knock you out, rather than figuratively, though through thick and then, I came out the other end (Ha-ha, I slant rhymed) feeling generally rewarded by the film, or if nothing else, the film's style. Say what you will about the story direction, because lord knows that I will, but the art direction is pretty top-notch, with Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography being breathtaking for its time and still stellar to this day, having a kind of an almost, well, heavenly radiance about it that's not always pronounced all that emphatically, yet when it is, say during a magic hour shot or something along those lines, it really stops you cold with its incredible lighting and color bounce. Not only is the photography good at making this world look pretty, but also making it seem quite grand, having a slickly broadness to its scope that creates an neatly epic feel, yet not at the expense of somewhat engrossing intimacy during your more small-scope moments. What further brings this world to life are the production designs, which aren't terribly unique, as far was western reproductions are concerned, yet remain intricate and lively, with a kind of engaging attention to detail that does help in setting the tone for the era, while Michael Cimino sets the overall tone of the story, though maybe with a tad too much success. Cimino's very meditative take on this film brings the word dreamy to mind, not necessarily because that's the level of dryness we're dealing with, but because the whatever level of dryness we're left facing could very well knock you into a dream, though what Cimino does get right as storyteller is worth powering through the slowness, as he does gather some tension during the harsher moments and pretty good action sequences, as well as some depth during your more dramatic moments. If nothing else, Cimino at least pulls off a charming execution of this story that is perhaps not terribly inventive, yet still compelling in concept and well worth watching in execution, even if things do get to be limp along. The performers seem to reflect the film's tone, with the exception of the dullness, as there are no boring performances, yet there are many charming ones, whether it be a here-and-there Jeff Bridges and John Hurt, or such more major roles as Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken (Wait, Christopher Walken is charming; Well now, who could have seen that coming?) and the lovely Isabelle Huppert... whoever that is. There's plenty of charm and, on occasions, even some depth to spare in this film, and that helps great in keeping you going through all of the slowness, with the other strengths that are listed above adding an extra kick of juice to the final product, to where it ultimately emerges a genuinely good and generally satisfying film, flawed though, it may be. To close the gates, other rather, this review, the film is often quiet and dry, with little punch to the atmosphere, rendering it periodically dull, a problem worsened by the fact that the film is also relentlessly overdrawn, particularly when it comes to noisy moments of environment meditation and often too talkative dialogue pieces, thus leaving even the scenes that aren't dull to lose steam in quite a few spots and the film to stand as not quite as engrossing as it should be, yet with Vilmos Zsigmond's radiant and sweeping photography direction and nifty production designs catching your eye, as well as Michael Cimino's still often effectively inspired direction and a myriad of charismatic, when not compelling performances catching enough of your investment, "Heaven's Gate" stands as a problematically slow and overlong, yet ultimately worthwhile epic that wins you over by the end. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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