Sweetwater breathes sour but satisfying life into the vigilante film genre.
The western, available in select theaters as well as video on demand outlets, casts Mad Men’s January Jones as a former prostitute with an unquenchable hunger for justice. Jones is no Charles Bronson, but the Death Wish franchise didn’t have a long-haired sheriff with a penchant for dancing at its disposal.
Sarah (Jones) has successfully shed her sinful past for life as a landowner alongside her Mexican husband (Eduardo Noriegas). The couple runs afoul of a maniacal preacher, the Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs), a man bent on usurping all the land he can in the name of the Lord.
When the Prophet makes Sarah a widow, the former prostitute picks up a gun to clean up her dirty town and avenge her love’s death.
Ed Harris plays a pivotal role in Sweetwater, cast as the mercurial sheriff who isn’t fooled by the Prophet’s peaceful bromides. The actor, given flowing silver locks and an eye for police minutiae, offers this small New Mexico town a semblance of order.
That isn’t enough for Sarah, or for a film keen on vengeance.
Harris and Isaac compete in a scenery chewing competition in Sweetwater, a battle which mostly serves audiences well.
“You are a queer man,” Josiah tells the sheriff, a gent prone to random bursts of dancing.
“Unusual. I prefer unusual,” the sheriff replies.
Indeed. Still, watching the sheriff conduct a pre-CS.I. crime investigation and challenge Josiah’s land domination is to witness a genre film rise above its station. Add dramatic cinematography befitting Oscar-bait films, and one can almost forgive Sarah’s malnourished transition to a cold-blooded killer.
Jones looks right at home in pre-20th century America, her sparkling beauty muted by her character’s past. The actress still can’t summon the emotions blanketing Sarah through the course of the story.
Sweetwater proves the vigilante film will endure–along with the western–when given ripe characters and a villain worthy of the protagonist’s rage.