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Case Number 26741

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Sweetwater (Blu-ray)

Arc Entertainment // 2013 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 27th, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is going to do his best to avoid getting on January Jones' bad side.

The Charge

Revenge is sweet.

Opening Statement

"This land is yours!"

Facts of the Case

Sarah Ramirez (January Jones, Mad Men) and her husband Miguel (Eduardo Noriega, The Devil's Backbone) are an ordinary, peace-loving couple attempting to make a new life for themselves in New Mexico in the latter part of the 19th Century. The most powerful figure in their town is Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs, Peter Pan), a corrupt religious leader who is more than willing to take violent action against those who disagree with his rigid belief system. When Josiah murders Miguel in cold blood, Sarah vows revenge. However, she isn't the only one determined to bring Josiah down—there's a new sheriff (Ed Harris, The Rock) in town, and he's not particularly pleased with the Prophet's brand of leadership. Who will survive the bloody showdown?

The Evidence

Every now and then, a little movie comes along and catches you off guard. I certainly had no reason to believe that Sweetwater would be particularly good, given that it received poor reviews when it was on the festival circuit and was shipped straight-to-DVD rather than receiving a proper theatrical run. Oh, and it features singer Jason Aldean (!) in a prominent supporting role. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a funny, compelling, brutal western with an exceptionally distinctive personality. It's by no means a great film, but there are moments in which it almost feels like an early Coen Brothers flick.

Despite the fact that the film clearly had a miniscule budget, it nonetheless manages to deliver a fairly strong sense of place. The small western town feels real and alive, and cinematographer Brad Shield (whose resume primarily consists of second unit work on big movies like The Thin Red Line, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Marvel's The Avengers) manages to provide a wide array of rather striking images—there's one shot of Ed Harris popping into a doorway that made me laugh out loud. The film is the sophomore effort of director Logan Miller, who previously worked with Harris on the sentimental (and semi-autobiographical) Touching Home. The only connecting thread between this film and that one is that they're both better than they appear to be at a glance.

Speaking of Ed Harris: what a performance he delivers in this film. He enters in exceptionally memorable fashion, dancing with great enthusiasm to the strains of "The Blue Danube Waltz" before beating the good-for-nothing former sheriff to a pulp and taking over. In fact, Harris dances through much of the movie, pirouetting about cheerfully on a regular basis. That reckless enthusiasm extends to the rest of his performance: observe the scene in which Harris gleefully digs into a fresh corpse in search of a bullet. Determined not to be outdone, Jason Isaacs steps up to the plate and delivers a villain even more ruthless and vile than the character he essayed in The Patriot. Josiah is so over-the-top that he eventually begins to feel like a cartoon ("Praise the Lord!" he cries triumphantly while engaging the services of a prostitute), but that's never a problem. Miller (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Noah) embraces the Looney Tunes spirit of the thing.

As for January Jones, I have to admit that the Millers have found a way to use her rather effectively. Over the years, it's become increasingly clear that Jones is an actress with a rather limited range, but she's very convincing as a quiet, stoic figure hellbent on getting her revenge. The dispassionate ruthlessness she demonstrates when taking down Josiah's thugs is eerily persuasive—there are a few moments in which she seems almost Eastwood-esque (though it's difficult to imagine Eastwood using his nude body as a means of baiting his targets).

Sweetwater (Blu-ray) has received a fine 1080p/2.35:1 transfer that accentuates the film's spare western setting. Detail is strong throughout—you can see every whisker on Harris' face and every strand of Isaacs' long, flowing hair. There are a few moments that suffer from a bit of noise, but otherwise it's a stellar transfer. Depth is most impressive, too. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is exceptional, delivering some surprisingly complex and involving sound design. The moments of action have some punch, but this is a quietly absorbing track for the most part. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Supplements are limited to a 10-minute making-of featurette, a music video and a trailer.

Closing Statement

Sweetwater is a peculiar, sometimes alarmingly violent western, but it's never dull. The actors look like they're having a terrific time, and the darkly enthusiastic spirit of the flick proves infectious. Recommended.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 60
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile

Studio: Arc Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Blu-ray
• Thriller
• Western

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette


• IMDb

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