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Sweet Vengeance

Sweetwater 2013 | 95 min | 2.39:1

Sweet Vengeance


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Sweet Vengeance


Screenshots from Sweetwater Blu-ray

Sweet Vengeance Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 4, 2013

Perhaps realizing they didn’t have the budget to indulge their western fantasies in full, filmmakers (and identical twins) Logan and Noah Miller take a route of peculiarity with “Sweet Vengeance,” making oddity, not expanse, the focus of the movie. The Millers make muscular choices in tone and humor here, shaping a curious picture that’s skilled at depicting sudden acts of violence, burning scenes of intimidation, and the emptiness of the southwest, creating an impressive but low-wattage effort that’s agreeably primitive in its design of good vs. evil -- though shadings of such moral assignment are always a little messy, keeping the material somewhere in the vicinity of sophistication as it delivers captivating six-gun basics.

Forging a life together in the blazing desert of New Mexico, Sarah (January Jones) and Miguel (Eduardo Noriega) are facing financial trouble, finding it impossible to make a living as farmers with racist attitudes swirling around town, also facing resistance from Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs), a lunatic preacher with multiple wives, a literal flock of sheep, and inspiration from God to kill at will. Disturbed by Miguel’s lack of respect, Josiah murders the innocent man, leaving Sarah alone to keep up the land as she searches for her missing husband. Also in town is Sheriff Jackson (Ed Harris), who’s investigating the disappearance of politically connected twins (Logan and Noah Miller) last seen near Josiah’s property, applying pressure on the religious servant as he digs for clues. Realizing that Josiah and his henchmen are responsible for Miguel’s death, Sarah saddles up for revenge, using dormant sex appeal and blunt force to even the score.

Watching “Sweet Vengeance” is like paging through a western comic book, with its eccentric personalities and crisply imagined elements of revenge. It’s not lighthearted work, but sold with enough spice to pass for an entertaining ride. Opening with a poetry reading from Jackson and a shot of fire and brimstone preaching from Josiah, the Millers announce straight away that their film isn’t a conventional wagon ride with chaw-squirting gunslingers, but something more idiosyncratic, passing on a massive sweep of western justice to inspect strange people and duplicitous dealings, packed full with oddball behaviors, including impromptu explosions of dance and convulsing conversations with God. “Sweet Vengeance” isn’t comical, but there’s strangeness about the work that’s amusing, keeping the proceedings unpredictable despite a familiar premise.

It’s the acting that ultimately holds “Sweet Vengeance” together. While Jones is satisfactory in silent slaughter mode (better seen than heard), crossing the land clad in a vivid purple dress to visually disarm her enemies for dispatching them, the movie belongs to Isaacs and Harris, who submit unswerving work as burgeoning antagonists. Isaacs is a bit of a miracle man here, able to manufacture pure evil in Josiah without giving in to heavy theatrics, finding a sinister middle ground as the preacher barely veils his insatiable lust and wild-eyed demand for respect. It’s dark work, adding an ideal amount of menace to the feature, matched perfectly to Harris’s weathered understanding as Jackson, who, despite his flighty exterior, is always in step with dastardly plans, enjoying the opportunity to make Josiah sweat while he pieces together the particulars of the multiple murders. There’s an invitation to launch themselves into broad behaviors to match the chewy traditions of the genre, but Isaacs and Harris play it funky instead, embracing the bravado and weaknesses of these men as they engage in a war of wits and stink-eyes.

Layers of characterization provide substance to “Sweet Vengeance.” We understand Miguel’s frustration with the locals and their boldfaced hate for Mexicans and learn about Sarah’s past as a prostitute working for her mother (played by Amy Madigan in a terrific cameo), making the widow’s woe all the more painful. The local community is also teeming with colorful sorts, though these men, including banker Hugh (Stephen Root) and general store owner/peeping tom Martin (Vic Bowder), are ugly sorts out to make life impossible for innocent folk. As far as Sarah and Jackson are concerned, they will not be missed.

Employing plenty of sun-baked locations and magic hour cinematography, “Sweet Vengeance” nails its intended mood of isolation, emphasizing a refreshing sense of solitude to place pressure on the tension. Violence is also treated sparingly, with single gunshots adding grave punctuation to showdowns. “Sweet Vengeance” certainly isn’t an exhaustive spin on western tropes, but the Millers work known elements with flair, and their commitment to character is invigorating, making the eventual slide into bloodlust ripple with personality.

Starring: January Jones, Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Root, Dylan Kenin
Director: Logan Miller

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