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Heaven's Gate (1980)

  Directed by: Michael Cimino
Written by: Michael Cimino
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken
Links: Heaven's Gate on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

Heaven's Gate (1980) is also mentioned in thestudent's review of Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of 'Heaven's Gate' (2004).

"Never slap a sleeping man with a bullwhip in his hand" - a review by timchuma

Having heard interviews about the new restored version of the film (I am aware of the history of this movie), I was prepared to give it a chance, as the people talking about this restored version seemed to be really enthusiastic about it. It is important to note that this is not a ‘Director's Cut’ as the original director threw in the towel after the problems with the original release.

The people responsible for this restored version are MGM archivist John Kirk and the cinematographer of the original movie. Kris Kristofferson is also helping promote it and gave a taped introduction to the screening I was at, thanking us for coming and saying this version had only ever been seen by the cinematographer and director before.

Beginning in 1870 at Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, we see James Averill (Kristofferson), Billy Irvine (John Hurt) and John L. Bridges (Jeff Bridges) going through their graduation celebrations, which apparently include a hearty fistfight under a tree just for the hell of it.

Jim wakes up and it is 1890 and he is on his way back to Jefferson Country in Wyoming where he is the sheriff. There are heaps of people in the city where he arrives, but there is also trouble. He finds out from his friend Bill that a wealthy group of stockholders has a ‘death list’ for poor immigrants in his county that are being called “anarchists and thieves’.

Out in the county we see Nathan D. Champion (Christopher Walken) kill a man for poaching cattle. He feels he is just doing his job for the landholders, but the other settlers don't see it that way.

In the town of Heaven's Gate Jim calls into the local establishment and interrupts John (who is the publican) who is judging the cockfighting out the back. After drinking three whole glasses of whisky, his next port of call is the local whorehouse.

The head woman there is Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert). All I can say is wow! Jim is eating a pie she made for him and she strips off the kitchen table and runs up to bed telling him to finish the pie. It is funny seeing her rip off his clothes as Jim doesn't really seem concerned about getting undressed.

Later, while they are both only wearing blankets wrapped around them, Jim takes her outside and shows her the present he bought her. In a great sequence we see her driving the cart into town at full speed while he drinks from a whisky decanter and hangs on.

Most of the first half of the film is taken up with introducing the characters and establishing the setting. I know some people would prefer more action, but this half of the film has some great scenes like the roller-skating sequence in the town hall and all the colour and movement of the frontier territory.

While the first half had a sense of impending doom, the second half has all the set piece action sequences that make this movie such a strong one. You really believe that these people are fighting for their lives and that there is no one that can help them as it is an order from the government.

It is really disappointing that this movie went so badly on it's original release as if it had been made in the 90's it would have done well alongside such films as Dances with Wolves (1990). The money problems it had are dwarfed by films such as Titanic (1997) and Waterworld (1995) (which made its money back!). There is no doubt Kris Kristofferson would have got an Oscar nomination for it too.

For those of you who like action, Kris Kristofferson gets to punch up Christopher Walken in this film. Also, Kris walks around shirtless for those of you who think he is sexy.

You can really see where the money went on this production as the buildings look like they are real and the sets are really complete. The costumes are also great and really fit the period also.

Special mention must also go to the soundtrack which mixes traditional songs with a strong orchestral score. Look out for the ‘Heaven's Gate band’ (including the roller-skating violinist) during the town sequences also.

This film is only getting a limited release in cinemas so I would recommend picking it up on DVD. It hopefully should do very well there as people love getting ‘special editions’ of movies. For those of you who think you wouldn't be able to watch it in one sitting, it would also be a great movie to watch over two nights.

timchuma gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 13 Jan 2005

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