Heaven's Gate Reviews
Wyoming, 1890. Frank Averill is the Sherriff of Johnson County, a county largely inhabited by foreign immigrants. The wealthy cattle owners view the immigrant farmers as a nuisance and hindrance to them enlarging their own land. The cattlemen's association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, effectively declares war on the immigrant farmers, and gets the state government's blessing. They assemble an army of guns-for-hire, and, backed by US cavalry, set out to rid the state of the immigrants. Frank Averill's heart is with the immigrants but he is not sure they have a chance of winning the inevitable war.
Loosely based on true events and written and directed by Michael Cimino, whose previous movie was The Deer Hunter, the movie had heaps of potential. A noble sentiment, highlighting the rights of the downtrodden, with the promise of some good action scenes - what could go wrong? Well, a lot. The movie is one of the most padded in history. The story could easily have been told in two hours, even less, but Cimino stretches it out to more than 3 1/2 hours. Heaps of scenes that don't add much, if anything, and many scenes that go too long.
The opening scenes, set at Harvard University, say it all - all they are there for is to show the friendship between James Averill and Billy Irvine, and this relationship has very little bearing on the story, ultimately! All the Harvard scenes, taking about 20 minutes, could have been removed and the movie would have been no worse for it.
It gets worse - Cimino also made a 5 1/2 version of the movie!
In between all the padding, there is some good plot development, but this is often a false dawn. Just when something significant happens and you think the movie is about to click into top gear, you then have 20-30 minutes of stagnation and dullness - more padding.
Eventually things do come together, but it takes more than three hours to get there. Even then the conclusion is a bit anti-climactic and not entirely satisfying.
Okayish performance by Kris Kristofferson in the lead role - could have done without his excessive mumbling though. Best performances goes to Christopher Walken and Jeff Bridges. John Hurt and Sam Waterston are okay in their roles, though Hurt overdoes the drunkenness aspect of his character. On the downside, Isabelle Huppert is atrocious as Ella and Richard Masur as the station-master, Cully, is not much better.
The movie also includes Mickey Rourke in a minor role - it was only his third movie. Willem Dafoe made his movie debut in Heaven's Gate, in an uncredited role.
More interesting than the movie itself is the infamy and history surrounding it. Cimino was fresh from the success of The Deer Hunter, so had a large amount of free rein with production. The length of the movie (especially the fact that there is a 5 1/2 hour version out there) will tell you that production was not cheap - Cimino eventually went four times over budget! The film was one of the worst box office bombs of all time, generating $3.5m in revenue in the US after costing $44m to make (in 1980 terms).
The losses on the movie effectively bankrupted United Artists - they were sold and the name disappeared.
After Cimino's free-spending, studios were loathe to give directors free rein anymore, starting a period of tighter corporate control of movies. The movie also put westerns on the outer with audiences and studios, making the 80s a lean period for westerns.
It also effectively ended the career of Michael Cimino. His next movie was Year of the Dragon, released five years later and which wasn't that great. Since 1985 he has only directed three movies, none of which were any good. Nobody is willing to risk him with a potentially-A-grade movie.
Worth watching just to see what all the fuss is about but, beware, it's a bit of an ordeal.
Wyoming but the basic story of the two guys in love with the same girl is
Paint Your Wagon without the gold or the songs! And that triangle took up
too much time.
If this confrontation between immigrants and "stockgrowers" really
happened, then I'm grateful that this movie brings that history to light.
(Later, I found out the events didn't happen. The movie is apparently fictional!)
Cannot make out John Hurt's rôle. Also, Sam Waterson is lost for a great chunk of the movie.
The story (for it hardly has a plot) is too slight for such a lengthy movie.