This film is a true epic. The characters are compelling, but not overblown. Bringing out the dusty and desperate existence, Cimino's direction etches the people in this story as they are, with very little Hollywood gloss. Christopher Walken's entrance, for example, is presented very matter-of-factly, and the viewer can quickly understand what the fight is about. Sam Waterston, as the genuine antagonist, further offers a simplicity of pure greed and soullessness, rather than the more traditional mustache-twirling treachery. Yes, the battle scenes are brutal and long, but that's how violent confrontations often go. There is no glorification, and in fact Cimino instead accents the sloppy frustration of this kind of encounter. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is outstanding, and is the element that adds most substantially to the epic feel. David Mansfield's score could not be more appropriate and stirring, and given the fact that he was all of 22 at the time, and, aside from the barn dance scenes, plays all of the instruments with a breadth of sensitivity and passion, well.... it is surprising that he was not nominated for his great work here. This is another example of a film that was initially slammed, but in fact has weathered the test of time successfully.
Probably one of the most frustrating movie experiences I’ve ever encountered. On the one hand, you have these extraordinary and elaborately staged scenes such as a lavish 1870 Harvard graduation, massive influxes of immigrants to Wyoming, riotous confrontations of the immigrant landowners and the wealthy owners of large ranches, huge social gatherings at a roller skating rink, and finally the colossal Johnson County shootout. Cimino is clearly a brilliant artist who is somehow able to create such unique and visually stunning moments, but it is a brilliance that borders on artistic madness as the scenes become outrageously overdone as well as interminably long and repetitive, leaving the viewer screaming over and over “CUT”!!! In addition, Cimino in this film seems to have lost all sense of narrative, leaving the viewer with simply a collage of bloated visual images while one struggles to make some sense out of what little storyline is offered up. Even the roster of capable actors was not able to rise above such strictures. If I’d not read both the plot summary of the film (which takes great liberty with the historical facts) as well as an outline of the actual events of the Johnson County War of 1892, I would never have known what was going on. The lack of solid narrative is compounded with the fact that, despite being a Criterion Edition, there are no subtitles which created another struggle in attempting to understand a great percentage of the dialogue lost due to a poor soundtrack at many points in the film and numerous scenes containing extensive dialogue by the immigrants in foreign languages.
A monumental film with some badly prolonged parts.
Bad, needless introduction, before jumping ahead 20 years to the real story based on the Johnson County War in Wyoming and its aftermath in which the governor and President Benjamin Harrison were complicit.
Compelling recreation of bleak period conditions. Gripping horse and train scenes. Battle scenes excessive.
Strong, ironic conclusion.
Isabelle Huppert irresistible, as in other films of the time.
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