South Of Heaven West Of Hell

  • 2001
  • Movie
  • R
  • Action, Western

What happens when grown-ups with more money than inspiration get the notion to dress up like cowboys and bandits and make their own variation on THE WILD BUNCH (1969), with vaguely supernatural undertones. Christmas Eve 1907, Arizona Territory. The unruly Henry family sweeps through small-town Los Tragos, ostensibly to say howdy to laconic Sheriff Valentine...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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What happens when grown-ups with more money than inspiration get the notion to dress up like cowboys and bandits and make their own variation on THE WILD BUNCH (1969), with vaguely supernatural undertones. Christmas Eve 1907, Arizona Territory. The unruly Henry family sweeps through small-town Los Tragos, ostensibly to say howdy to laconic Sheriff Valentine Casey (Dwight Yoakam), whom patriarch Leland Henry (Luke Askew) raised after Casey's entire family died of influenza. Casey is remarkably unfriendly and curtly sends them packing, but they return under cover of night to rob the bank, killing several Los Tragosites in the process. Nine months later, Val has hung up his badge and become a horse trader. He and his business partner (Terry McIlvain), who wears dresses and bears the unlikely name "U.S. Christmas," blow into Dunfries, a tiny burg on the Arizona/Mexico border. They check into the bustling Dunfries Hotel, owned and operated by loony Burl Dunfries (Matt Clark), whose daughter Adalyne Dunfires (Bridget Fonda), an actress, has just returned from Canada in the company of the peculiar Brigadier Smalls (Billy Bob Thornton). Family fireworks ensue: In addition to fighting with her father, Adalyne upsets her Uncle Angus (Bo Hopkins) by saying she wants to take his small daughter Maggie (Flecia Beard) to San Francisco and enroll her in a school for the deaf. (Angus later confesses that he believes Maggie's inability to hear is the Devil's work). Soon after, sleek impresario Shoshone Bill (Peter Fonda) arrives with his motley crew of Wild West show performers. Violence soon shatters this eccentric idyll: The Henrys, whose ranch is just across the border in Mexico, hid the money from the Los Tragos robbery at the Dunfries Hotel, and volatile Taylor Hanry's (Vince Vaughn) attempt to recover it precipitates a second bloodbath. Directed and co-written by country singer Dwight Yoakam, this film just screams "vanity project." His script drops a series of unsubtle hints that the Dunfries Hotel is a sort of way station for unquiet souls — there's talk that Val was killed in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, Adalyne's wrists bear angry scars, and Shoshone Bill swears he heard that Brigadier Smalls, a notorious gambler, was shot for cheating at cards — but nothing much comes of it. It may, however, account for the characters' tendency to talk in slow, flat tones, and have long, apparently deeply meaningful conversations about such subjects as whether it's cold in Canada. But if you like your sagebrush with a bracing shot of metaphysics, Jim Jarmusch's DEAD MAN (1996) is a more satisfying brew.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: R
  • Review: What happens when grown-ups with more money than inspiration get the notion to dress up like cowboys and bandits and make their own variation on THE WILD BUNCH (1969), with vaguely supernatural undertones. Christmas Eve 1907, Arizona Territory. The unruly… (more)

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