Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the Western thriller OUTLAWS AND ANGELS by writer/director JT Mollner. To be describe the plot, I will turn to my edited version of the IMDB summary:
When Outlaws on the lam invade the home of an unsuspecting, seemingly innocent, frontier family to hide out for the night, an unexpected game of cat and mouse ensues, leading to seduction and role reversal.
There is something about the wide open plains, the glaring sun, and the rugged inhospitality of the frontier that draws in the hard cases. Here, one must be tougher than the elements just to survive Mother Nature, never mind any other folk that might be around. The few small towns that spring up attract the hard knuckle characters just as easily as the puritanical, because both are just trying to survive. What does it cost to stay alive in a land that seems poised to kill the weak?
Obviously, none of the ideas I have presented above are anything new to the western genre as they have been seen before in the works of Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah. The bleached out desert scenes, which were common near the beginning, brought back fond memories of watching my first spaghetti western with my dad. Thus, the first half of this movie will feel very familiar to those acquainted with the violent spaghetti westerns of old, while the last hour takes on a quirky life of its own.
I say quirky because the back end of the film injects some broad humor into the storyline. At first, it seemed almost accidental as they started a few of the scenes with piano music that just felt largely out of context. Thus, the comedy aspect took me a moment or two to adjust to as, up to that point; it had been a humorless affair. Those who stick through the credits will see that the comedy was intentional, but I can still honestly say that I did not expect this story to have fart jokes. Now luckily, the humor was kept very character specific so as not to undermine the spirit of the characters that had already been set forth.
Now, if I am being honest, most of the characters are archetypes of roles we have seen populating other features. The actors themselves are required to add the depth to their respective parts, which some of them succeed at doing. I bet those who have seen the movie will say that Francesca Eastwood was one of the successes (I would agree except for the fact that her character already HAD a lot of nuance), but for me the main success was Chad Michael Murray. Mr. Murray managed to make quite the likable rogue out of his role elevating what could have been a one not character into someone I enjoyed watching from the first frame to the last.
Another thing that made this easy on the eyes was the excellent period portrayal. From the flamboyant costuming of Luke Wilson to tight quarters portrayed by the poor families abode, they nailed the look of the piece. The period trappings were complemented by some fantastic cinematography that handled both the expansive and claustrophobic scenes with equal ease. Those who love the western genre will feel right at home in this feature from the opening narration to the final shot.
While I was curious to see how this was going to end, I was a little surprised that they kept teasing me with possible endings before finally settling upon a conclusion. In fact, twice during this feature I thought it was actually over, only to have it keep going. Now, as to whether or not the actual ending was any better than the two false endings will vary person to person, but all of the endings did various justices to the themes presented.
All in all, the design felt on point at capturing the spirit of westerns while the cast elevated their characters above what could have been carbon copies. The humor further helped to set it apart from similar fare, but I wish there had been more near the beginning so that I was more prepared for it going into the ending. Though the finale could have used some tightening, the fantastic look of the piece kept my interest until violent cut to red.
OUTLAWS AND ANGELS will be in select theaters as well as VOD July 15, 2016.