Judge David Johnson has shadows in his heart and a song in his groin.
He came for revenge…he found redemption.
The Western seems to have some legs these days, and the direct-to-DVD market has seen more than a few gunslingers mosey its way in. The latest: Shadowheart.
Facts of the Case
James Connors (Justin Ament) has had a tough life on the frontier. When he was a kid, he watched his preacher dad get iced by a corrupt landowner (Angus MacFadyen, Braveheart). Then he went on to fight in the Civil War, which was surely no barrel of laughs. After that, he took a job as a bounty hunter, renowned for his short temper and lethal gunplay. But when a job brings him back into contact with the bastard that killed his father, old feelings of hatred and vengeance spring forth. Connors wants blood.
But not before hooking up with a lovely lady and making friends with the local Native Americans, a connection that will pay off when tragedy strikes again. This times Connors get really pissed.
I'm all for a kickass Western revenge saga, but this ain't it. The premise is certainly something I can get behind—who doesn't want to sit down and drink up a satisfying tale of an ill-tempered bounty hunter looking to ventilate the dirtbag who murdered his father in front of his face? But any goodwill generated by the setup immediately evaporates, once the actual film kicks in. This sucker moves slow.
The actual revenge stuff doesn't transpire until about two-thirds of the way through, well beyond the time its momentum is nuked. Those first two acts are taken up with Connors and his attempt to forge a new life with his lady friend. Hey, good for him, but not too good for the viewing audience, as the forward motion propelled by the sight of the bad guy whacking dad is squashed with this tedium.
Eventually, the film gets back to its righteous vendetta leanings, when Connors is screwed over again. The actual plot seems to take shape when he's brought in by a Navajo tribe, nursed back to health, and sent out to finish his goals—which he does in tepid fashion.
The final showdown between Connors and his nemesis, the point at which the entire film has been orienting towards this whole time, is far from what you'd call "crowd-pleasing." There's a face-off in the street (as the genre dictates, of course), but the culmination is disappointing. A big no-no for a film that's reliant on the protagonist/antagonist dynamic driving the whole thing.
I don't know, I guess if you're really hard up to watch a Western you could do worse, but Shadowheart just never did anything for me. The molasses pace and lackluster performances make for a stumbling cowboy adventure.
A serviceable DVD brings a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 5.1 surround to the table, with a commentary from director Dean Alioto and a making-of featurette riding shotgun.
The whole thing plays like a flaccid Hallmark Western.
Guilty. Just pass on through, stranger.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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