Ed Harris and Jason Isaacs headline the blood-spattered Western Sweet Vengeance that sits uncomfortably between dark revenge thriller and black comedy. Like a couple of pantomime dames, Harris and Isaacs steal scenes teetering constantly on the verge of parody and deadly serious intent.
Sarah (January Jones) and Miguel (Eduardo Noriega) are a young couple living a peaceful and happy life on their small patch of land in the rugged plains of New Mexico in the Old West. They have money troubles and a nearby fanatical priest not helping matters with his racist and psychotic tendencies and then to make matters worse for the hard up couple, Sarah discovers she is pregnant. Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs) takes umbrage at an accusation made by Miguel and quickly kills him, leading to an investigation by the eccentric Sheriff Jackson (Ed Harris) and a murderous revenge mission from Sarah.
Sweet Vengeance gets its sweet and its vengeance from January Jones as Sarah, a character who should be far more central to the story but is sadly sidelined for much of the running time. Sarah’s arc from gentle lover and potential mother to gun-toting one woman angel of death is the crux of the story but the script centres far more firmly on its two biggest players; Harris and Isaacs. While Jones gets the chance to shine a little brighter in later scenes, it’s really a case of too little, too late. What should have a been a female-centric tale of bloodlust and revenge has spent far too long setting up its stars with intriguing, occasionally amusing characters at the expense of the one character the viewer should really be rooting for.
Dolling Sarah up, putting her in a beautiful purple dress and having her shoot a few men does not make for an engaging tale when she has not been the central focus for the rest of the story. It might be occasionally fun to watch her take on her victims and one method of dispatch is particularly memorable, but she is devoid of much personality and completely over shadowed by her grandstanding co-stars. She even plays a frustratingly passive role in the seen it all before, seen it coming from the start and over too quick climax.
Jason Isaacs can play the villain blindfolded and has excelled in this kind of role in the past. However despite the despicable nature of his Prophet Josiah, the script never fully explores or develops the villain and he is a sadly lacking creation. Yes he can be cold, merciless and say some nasty things, but his lines aren’t delivered with enough menace and don’t have the memorable ring of classic bad guys. His fundamentalism strikes a prescient chord but fails to really make the character catch fire.
Ed Harris on the other hand gets the best character with his Sherriff being a very distinct presence, whirling and spinning his way through fire fights and violence, all the while investigating the murders and unfortunately hogging the film from the strong woman that should have provided the thrust of the story. He is bonkers, barmy and a lot of fun but the moments of comedy he provides sit dubiously with the dark heart of the story.
It is an assured directorial vision from Logan Miller with a decent score and some interesting if not exceptional cinematography but the script from brothers Logan and Noah Miller needed more work and less pandering to the roles saved for the big stars. January Jones could and should have ably carried this film, making Sarah a kick-ass heroine that the audience could really get behind and care for.
The fundamental flaw with Sweet Vengeance is pacing and structure. It ambles along and takes far too long to get to the revenge part of the story. While there is plenty of fun to be had watching Harris and Isaacs show boating, their numerous scenes and consistent presence comes at a cost to what should have been the emotional centre and main drama of the story. January Jones receives short shrift in what could have been an iconic feminist western.
There is a ten minute making of that features all the central players but is pure filler.
Sweet Vengeance is released on DVD on Monday June 3rd 2013.