Movie Review: “Outlaws & Angels”

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I love Westerns, love filmmakers who put the time in to get the period detail right.

Nothing was clean, from sweaty clothes to dirty faces to green teeth. Pistoleros weren’t likely to hit what they were aiming at quickly and you may pick a remote spot to set your town, but there’d be better some logical reason for people to attempt living there in the dust and sagebrush.

“Outlaws & Angels” put the effort in. The New Mexico of 1887 is pitiless and unwashed, violent and opportunistic. Justice is fleeting unless there’s something personal about it.

But it’s an impossible picture to cozy up to, a funereally slow saunter from bloody robbery to murderous hostage situation, with a lawman (Luke Wilson) taking his damn sweet time tracking down the desperadoes.

Chad Michael Murray dirties up and dresses down as the leader of the pack of trigger-happy bank robbers. They’re no better than psychopaths, the lot of them.

“I ain’t used my ax in a while. I’d be lyin’ if I said wasn’t lookin’ forward to it.”

These guys are “straight outta the hoose-gow” and headed to Hell. Or Cuchillo. Whichever comes first.Some of their number die along the way.

They take the long, dry and suicidal route from town to the border, and that’s how they end up laying low at a farm owned by a preacher (Ben Browder), his wife (Teri Polo) and their two feuding, fundamentalist daughters (Francesca Eastwood, Madison Beaty).

The outlaws sniff around the womenfolk, the mother starts to crack up, patriarch is helpless, and one girl — played by Clint Eastwood’s daughter — takes a shine to such sinful intentions.

It was a different time, and hard people did what they had to in order to survive, although many accepted death rather than a fate worse than death. Henry (Murray) is handsome, pretty even, but plainly ruthless and sadistic. Florence (Eastwood) may have ulterior motives, but there’s no getting around what writer-director JT Mollner is propositioning here. This is a romantic treatment of a situation that can only be regarded as rape.

Meanwhile,  Josiah leads an ever-shrinking posse in a dogged, slow-footed pursuit of these cold-blooded killers.

Who, exactly, are we meant to root for here? We’ve been the bad men kill kinfolk and children. Are we to hate the farm folk because of their fundamentalism, or what we suspect is actually going on there?The lawman is as under-developed as the sunscreen that was plainly slathered on his face wasn’t blended in with his skintone, rendering poor Wilson a Coppertoned kabuki, in some shots.

The answer appears to be “Florence,” and that fact and her Eastwood name (her mother Frances Fisher has a cameo) earn Francesca E. top billing. The young Ms. Eastwood has a look and some screen presence. But Florence’s behavior never seems righteous or noble, merely expedient and vengeful.

The whole lot are loathsome, save for the occasional victim, usually killed off too quickly for us to care. The performances are archetypal, illogical and unsympathetic in the extreme.

Worst of all is this 85-minute-story-in-a-two-hour-movie’s lack of urgency. The world moved slower back then, but ever since Westerns have been committed to the Big Screen, pace has been paramount. Just because your story’s told on horseback is no excuse for all this moseying.

1star6

MPAA Rating:R for strong bloody violence, disturbing sexual content, and language

Cast: Chad Michael Murray, Francesca Eastwood, Teri Polo, Luke Wilson, Ben Browder, Frances Fisher
Credits: Written and directed by JT Mollner. A Momentum/eOne release.

Running time: 2:00

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