Heaven’s Gate, in the last thirty years or so, has created a reputation for being one of the most notorious flops in the history of film. In the past thirty years since its initial lukewarm reception it has been considered a masterpiece by many critics, but it’s equally reviled as being one of the worst films ever made, albeit that viewpoint has increasingly dwindled in recent years.
The making of Heaven’s Gate is as infamous as the film itself; it went wildly over budget, there are confirmed stories that the director Michael Cimino would literally wait for exactly the right cloud in the sky, and there are unconfirmed reports that a sizeable amount of the budget went on cocaine for the cast and crew.There’s been a very famous book on the making of called Final Cut, which was later made into a TV documentary which is included on this disc. It has been cited as the single film that took the power from the director, which was very much a thing of the 70s to more studio-controlled films, which is still sadly the case.
The story of Heaven’s Gate is relatively simple it’s about Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) who is a marshal in Johnson County, Wyoming. Averill is from money but has rejected his classes’ rejected attitude to the poor immigrates of Johnson County. The immigrates sometimes steal the rich cattle barons’ stock for food and the cattle owners have decided to create a kill list and have hired men to do the job and have got political power from Washington to do so. The rest of film shows the people of Johnson County and the war they fight with the cattle barons.
The film’s initial reaction from New York Times critic Vincent Canby has went down in history as one of the most infamous bad reviews with the line “it fails so completely that you might suspect Mr. Cimino sold his soul to obtain the success of The Deer Hunter and the Devil has just come around to collect.” The truth of the matter is it’s actually a better film than the much-loved The Deer Hunter and a more interesting film; it doesn’t have the tour de force of the legendary Russian roulette scenes. It’s a considerably slower film but Cimino’s intention was to transport you to experience the west, as it was not some romantic version, which is so often the case.
The cinematography of the film is some of the best ever committed to film so some initial reviews like saving “there are no redeeming features” is absurd. Vilmos Zsigmond who was the cinematographer of the 1970s shot it. The famous roller skating scene is spellbinding and there are shots in the film, which are literally just jaw dropping in their beauty.
The cast Cimino complied is simply outstanding including Kris Kristofferson in possibly his finest performance. Christopher Walken is great as usual as one of the hired killers. The film’s supporting cast is complied which like people as Jeff Bridges, John Hurt and a very young Mickey Rourke and if you watch carefully you can spot a young Willem Dafoe in the cockfighting scene. The one flaw in casting is Isabelle Huppert as madam of a whorehouse in Wyoming but even that works cause the film is almost dreamlike at times.
Heaven’s Gate seems to have become a modern classic for many and rightfully so, it’s a film that has became legendary for the both the right and wrong reasons. It deserves the 2nd chance it’s now receiving with the recent theatrical and Blu-ray reissues here and across the pond in the USA. It’s well worth the 3 hours and 40 minutes of your time.
BD/DVD Release Date:
25th November 2013 (UK)
Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Sam Waterston
Buy Heaven’s Gate 2 disc restored edition:
[Blu-ray] / [DVD]
This is a shared review with Cinehouse