Sweetwater, 95 minutes, Kickstart Productions, Arc Entertainment, 2013, $20.99
Directed by Logan Miller and written by Logan and brother Noah, Sweetwater is a B-Western that trots over familiar territory—revenge. Actually “trots over” might come across a little strong when referring to a movie that doesn’t have anything at all interesting to say about the concept of revenge. It is safer to say that as Sarah (January Jones) seeks to avenge her husband’s death, the movie tiptoes in the neighborhood of this theme. In Sweetwater revenge is less a means to generate drama and conflict than it is a convenience for the filmmakers to justify having their protagonist spend the third act riding around shooting people.
What is unique about this film is the prospect of a female lead, but the part is written with such blandness, and played that way by Jones, that she often gets buried beneath side players Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris. Isaacs plays Prophet Josiah, a powerful religious zealot, and he takes a one-note bad-guy role and amps up the lunatic to 11. Isaac’s all-out nutcase would have been enjoyable in a smaller sample size, but the prominence of the role makes his act wear on the viewer over time. The true standout of the movie is Harris, who plays a rogue sheriff investigating a double murder that leads him to Josiah’s ranch. Harris, who also starred in the Miller brothers’ first movie, Touching Home, seems to be having a lot of fun in a comic-heavy role and gives us some great moments—when he scratches up Josiah’s mahogany table at a dinner party or, later, when he casually removes a bullet from a dead man’s gluteus maximus in front of a crowd. These are memorable scenes in an otherwise forgettable movie.
Despite Harris’ efforts, the Miller brothers season a too-familiar story with about as much zest as a dab of mayonnaise. Even a scene in which a nude Jones, bathing in a river, surprises and guns down her would-be assassins is unable to inject enough shock, wonder, genuine excitement—anything—into her story to make it worth it. Admittedly, Sweetwater isn’t altogether briny. The New Mexico frontier looks great, a solid production design makes it “feel” like the West (something not many B-Westerns can claim), and its script has its fair share of clever moments and zingers. But it is sure to leave even the most diehard Western fans—those who long await each scattered new release—without their thirst quenched.