Heaven's Gate

1980, Movie, R, 217 mins


This beautiful but notoriously disappointing film is one of the most overblown epic Westerns of any decade. The story allegedly relates the events of the bloody 1892 Johnson County wars in Wyoming, pitting cattlemen against immigrant settlers. James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) becomes marshal and must hold the county's combatants in check. Nathan D. Champion (Christopher Walken) is a gunfighter hired by the ranchers. Both men share the sexual favors of prostitute Ella "Cattle Kate" Watson (Isabelle Huppert). Through various slice-of-life episodes without a unifying thread, writer-director Michael Cimino tries to depict the lifestyles of the ranchers and the settlers, and the differences that lead to all-out war between the factions.

Kristofferson is wooden, Walken far too remote, and no one else in the cast stands out. Cimino's financial excesses included having trains completely rebuilt, providing infinitely detailed costumes for extras, and planting miles of sod on a battle field that would be blown up. The film's final cost was estimated to be $35 million, though some reports went as high as $50 million. Cimino's sins might have been forgiven in Hollywood had the film made a positive statement; but it derides the American Dream as a history of moral compromise---this in lieu of a story--and the American press took off after it in droves; the public's reaction to the truncated version released was to reject it instantly. The director's cut, available on cassette, is regarded as a masterpiece in Europe where Cimino's star shines brighter. leave a comment

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