Sundance 2013: “Sweetwater” – Review by MovieManMenzel

A Unique Take on the Western Genre that is a Total Blast from Start to Finish!

Set in the 1800’s, Sweetwater is a unique take on the western genre. The film is about a religious leader named Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs) who feels that he controls the town and how everyone should think and act. In a weird way, Josiah is almost like the Hitler of the West since he goes around killing anyone, who is of a difference race or any woman that he labels as a whore. After learning that Miguel (Eduardo Noriega) is a Mexican, Josiah kills him, which leaves his pregnant wife Sarah (January Jones) angry. It doesn’t take long before Sarah has a run-in with the Prophet, who treats her with disrespect and even tells her that he killed her husband. This is when Sarah begins to seek revenge for her husband’s death. Along the way, a new Sheriff named Jackson (Ed Harris) decides to investigate a few recent disappearances in town, which all seem to be pointing to the work of Prophet Josiah. It is now up to either Sarah or  Sheriff Jackson to find this radical religious nut-job and take him down once and for all.

When the opening credits began to run for Sweetwater, I was absolutely blown away by what I just witnessed. We all know that we rarely get a western film as it is, but what Sweetwater does is something that no western has done before. A lot of Sweetwater is very comical, but also very thrilling and disturbing. The character of Prophet Josiah played by Jason Isaacs is one of the best on-screen villains that I have seen in quite sometime. He is a horrible person, who as I mentioned earlier reminded me of Hitler because of his ability to do what he pleased and also controlled anyone that came his way. There is a sex scene featuring the Prophet, which I found comical but also played as huge contradiction for everything that  a so-called religious leader is suppose the stand for. In this scene, the Prophet seems to be running a whore house where he has sex with one woman and screams out “Praise be the Lord” and only seconds later after finishing, another woman comes in and he begins having sex with her and states “thank the lord.” I personally am not a religious person so I enjoyed the contradiction of religious beliefs with this character, which I feel does happen so often within people who state they are “religious.” Regardless of anything religious, Isaacs is freaking awesome as this Prophet who as he states in the film is here “to do God’s work.”

Along with Isaacs, you have a breakout performance by January Jones as Sarah. It goes without saying that January Jones is without a doubt the ultimate bad ass in this film. The way that she presents this character to the audience is simply amazing almost in a sense like the Bride from Kill Bill. Sarah in the beginning is such a lovable sweet character but after the series of events that take place such as her husband’s death and a few other things that I don’t wish to spoil, she just goes on a rampage. There are so many terrific scenes within the film that it would be a crime to not mention a few one of them. Without spoiling anything, there are two particular scenes that stick with you after seeing this film: One, is a river scene involving Sarah and two men on horses, and the other is a scene involving Sarah, the shopkeeper Martin, and a shotgun. That’s all I’m going to say but man where those scenes kick ass.

From Stephen Root to Ed Harris. there were a ton of smaller supporting roles in this film, but sadly I don’t have enough time to talk about them all. I will say this though, Ed Harris was hilarious in the film as the “take no shit” sheriff. I love the scene where he kicks the crap out of the old sheriff, who obviously hasn’t been doing his job in quite sometime. There are so many memorable scenes within the film and it really is because of how the actors played this characters along with the well-crafted script and fine direction.

Finally, I can’t end this review without mentioning the overall look and tone of the film. Director and co-writer, Logan Miller really captures the grittiness of New Mexico and the time peirod. While many will claim this looks nothing like a typical Western, I applaud Miller for trying to do something different with the film. The scenes are also crafted in a way that really build suspense and even laughs at times. Its strange because there is never really a dull moment in Sweetwater and that’s probably because of the pacing which always keeps you involved even if it is at times a little predictable here and there. You can tell Miller loves movies because as I said earlier there is a lot of different styles and genres mixed into this film. Its not a straight-up western so if you are expecting a pure cowboy-esque film this one might not be for you.

All in all, while Sweetwater isn’t a film that is going to get an award for a best original screenplay or even be called a cinematic masterpiece by any critic or film lover, it is, however, a film that is a ton of fun and an absolute blast to watch. I would almost dare to label this film as a western popcorn flick that is made simply to entertain and amuse its audience immensely for its 95 minute run time.  Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris are absolutely brilliant in their roles while January Jones is the ultimate female bad ass. I can’t say that this film will win over those who love traditional westerns, but for those of us, who like to mix up the genres while being highly entertained, Sweetwater will more than likely be just what you are looking for.

MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Sweetwater is a 8 out of 10.

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