Rating: R Strong violence, language, some sexual content and graphic nudity
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: October 11, 2013
Directed by: Logan Miller
Genre: Western, Drama, Action/Adventure
Cast: Full cast and crew
“Sweetwater” is sure to please those looking for some eye candy with its superb visuals and great cast. Set in the late 1800s in New Mexico, January Jones (Mad Men) takes on her first silver screen leading role as Sarah. She’s just tryin’ to get her life together after a long stint with prostitution, but a local preacher takes a liking to her and doesn’t seem to want to let go (played by Jason Isaacs). The cast also includes Ed Harris (Apollo 13) as a renegade lawman. Fan-favorite character actor Stephen Root (Office Space, Boardwalk Empire) plays a convincing peeping Tom to the protagonist. The movie also has a small role for Jason Aldean. He does yeoman’s work in an unexpectedly sincere performance. If anything, it brings a few new eyeballs to the endeavor.
Prophet Josiah wants to steal Sarah away from her husband Miguel (Eduardo Noriega), a premise that is certainly plausible given the lawlessness of the area at the time. Then, Josiah ends up shooting some well-heeled trespassers and everything goes southwest. Sheriff Jackson (Harris) comes to town only to find out that Josiah’s bought everyone in the town. He finds an unlikely ally in Sarah and they come together to battle the Prophet and his harem. The story is linear and thrives on unlikely serendipity but the action is tied together enough for a coherent action sequence that’ll knock your socks off. Don’t worry about spoilers here, because the ending is telegraphed from the very beginning.
The movie debuted at Sundance in 2013, had a limited released thereafter and was released on DVD in late 2013. Written and directed the fraternal duo of Logan Miller and Noah Miller, this sophomore attempt shines best during silence, when great actors like Harris are given space to act. And sometimes a little bit of overacting. Yet, it’s good to see at least someone on screen once and a while that isn’t completely phoning it in. Further, Harris and Jones don’t have too much chemistry. Even though it wouldn’t be sexual in nature, it would have been good to have more of a father-daughter interaction more than seeming indifference.
It’s imperative when watching “Sweetwater” to realize what you’re watching. Despite its cursing and violence, this picture is ripe for re-viewing on a cable movie channel if one has some time to fill. Unfortunately, it would take out one of the big perks of the film itself — January Jones topless. The film isn’t particularly soft-core pornography, but more revenge pornography. Thankfully, it completes this idea in a less grotesque manner than the recent “Django Unchained.”
The movie does suffer from some tropes, but most Westerns have these same problems. A few of the scenes with Jones are simply gratuitous and have no redeeming value. Fans of the genre specifically might not enjoy retreads of prior themes covered in recent works. The film is reminiscent of a particular TV show as well, “Hell on Wheels,” AMC’s middle-of-the-road series about a railroad camp. Venturing into the unexplored was also a feature of the miniseries “Klondike,” which suffered from an uncomfortably written female main character.
This movie has a little bit of everything, and an old axiom might stick here: when trying to please everyone you might end up alienating some of the viewing audience. As a result, the theme is a bit muddled, and leaves the viewer wondering what the purpose of the story is other than the aforementioned tasty treats.
Sweetwater pays homage with spaghetti-laden dialogue that reminds viewers a bit of the great HBO series “Deadwood.” On the other hand, it’s important to remember January Jones was a model first and actress second. Of and on, she appears to not take initiative and is just an empty jar for the dialogue to fill. She’s portrayed as a nagging character in Mad Men, and she gives a more resilient performance here. Jones is certainly a master of the craft now, and it’s a great role for her to foray into less type-casted roles.
Nevertheless, it’s clear this film didn’t get the attention it truly deserved. Overexposure to the genre might not have helped. The recent releases of “True Grit,” “Django Unchained,” and even “3:10 to Yuma” are likely contributors to the phenomena. The experience did seem genuine, especially the production value. It’s not like the company said “Westerns. They’re so hot right now”. The Millers had a story to tell and told it, and that’s an admirable feat.
Stars: 3 of 5 stars