Kino Lorber // 1978 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 23rd, 2013
A stylish meditation on America's history of violence.
The most exciting thing about Shoot the Sun Down is the title. The rest of the film, I'm sorry to report, is an incredibly tedious slice of genre fare that wants to be quite a few different westerns but never establishes an interesting identity of its own. It's 99 minutes of familiar western imagery that never goes anywhere -- the DVD case informs me that the film is a meditation on violence in the American west, but it feels more like a meditation on the limits of a viewer's patience.
Just take a look at the way the film opens. Over the course of the film's first few minutes, a mysterious figure named Mr. Rainbow (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can) rides around on his horse and attempts to elude a handful of Mexican bandits. It's meant to look like a game of hide-and-seek on horses, but it's so flatly staged that it simply comes across as a few guys lazily riding back and forth across the screen. Eventually, they all bump into one another. Mr. Rainbow examines the three bandits in front of him, pulls out his pistol and guns them down in cold blood. It's a moment that is clearly inspired by Leone, but everything about it feels half-hearted -- the composition isn't interesting, the actors seem bored and the set-up is half-assed. Sadly, this is one of the film's more involving sequences.
As things proceed, we learn that Mr. Rainbow is a former confederate soldier who now works as a hired gun. He's an enigmatic fellow who doesn't say a whole lot -- again, clearly inspired by the character Clint Eastwood plays in nearly every western he appears in, but Walken doesn't really have the presence to make a satisfactory strong, silent type. Walken is best when he's the colorful instigator; his loopy monologues have been the saving grace of many films. There's nothing in Shoot the Sun Down to suggest that he's actually a rather gifted actor -- it's hard to believe that he delivered his Oscar-winning turn in The Deer Hunter the very same year this flick was released.
Anyway, soon enough we meet the other central characters: a slippery scalphunter (Geoffrey Lewis, Maverick) and a wary woman from England (Margot Kidder, Superman: The Movie). The fact that they are credited merely as "Scalphunter" and "Woman from England" says a good deal about the thin characterization the movie provides them with. Soon enough, these three cross paths and find themselves entangled in a series of conflicts with Indians, bandits and each other. It's all much less exciting than it sounds. There are moments of action, but these feel very much like watching children play in the backyard -- the stunt choreography is laughable.
The film was written and directed by David Leeds, who hasn't directed anything else since. The film reportedly underwent a rather troubled production, with assorted cast members dropping out early on and location problems cropping up throughout the shoot. In an interview, Leeds also revealed that quite a bit of the film had been cut -- entire subplots involving Mr. Rainbow and some of the Native Americans featured in the film were eliminated. It's hard to say how much of that contributes to the film's ungainliness, but whatever the reason, Shoot the Sun Down is a bland mess.
Shoot the Sun Down (Blu-ray) has received a middling 1080p/2.35:1 transfer. The film certainly shows its age, as the image can be rather soft at times and there are quite a few scratches and flecks present. This wasn't a big-budget movie, so I suppose that's to be expected, but much of the time I had trouble remembering that I was watching a Blu-ray release. The DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio track is merely functional, as the off-putting faux-Morricone score (with a bit of '70s instrumentation instantly dating the film) sounds a little tinny at times. Still, dialogue is clean and clear. Supplements are limited to an alternate opening title sequence (featuring a song by Kinky Friedman) and a theatrical trailer.
I wish I could find something nice to say about Shoot the Sun Down, but there's little to appreciate aside from Kidder's looks and a modestly engaging supporting turn from Geoffrey Lewis. The film boasts the least interesting Christopher Walken performance I've seen, making it tough to recommend even to the actor's diehard fans. Too bad.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Alternate Opening