Sweet Vengeance is a tale of bittersweet revenge set against the extensive backdrop of the American Wild West. Newlyweds Miguel (Noriega) and Sarah (Jones) have settled on a patch of land that abuts the land of crazy preacher Prophet Josiah (Isaacs) and his equally crazy cult. Josiah takes a shine to both their land and to Sarah and decides that her Mexican husband is bad news and will have to go. But could the two lovebirds be saved by the rather eccentric and possibly unhinged Sheriff Jackson (Harris) who plods into town looking for a couple of men that we’ve already seen killed by Prophet Josiah and his right-hand man? Mmm, well, I doubt it, since the film’s title is Sweet Vengeance, but he could even the odds a little…
The first thing one notices about Sweet Vengeance is that it epitomises the term ‘gritty’ since this is a dirty western where characters (including the good guys) all have dirt under their nails and no one is really all that ‘good’ – everyone seems to have a dark past, or at best, a few half-skeletons hidden in their lonesome pine wardrobes. Life’s hard and those living it are harder still. At first Sarah appears to be all sweetness and light, but it soon becomes apparent that her rather wretched past will inevitably catch up with her. In fact her husband seems to be the only one who has always been an honest grafter, but his cards are marked right from the get-go, being from south of the border – blatant racism is rife here!
Once poor Miguel has bitten the dust it’s down to sassy Sarah to maintain audience sympathy, which she does with her feisty ‘never say die’ attitude. Her character arc throughout the film is nothing really new, but Jones carries the viewer with her and, by the last reel, you’re desperate for her to get her well-deserved payback.
Ed Harris has a weird role, one part Wild West Sherlock Holmes, one part righteous justice and two parts longhaired nut-job. In fact, it has to be said that Harris steals every scene he’s in with some great dialogue including plenty of classic put-downs for those who get in his way. And the main person who’s in his way is equally barmy Prophet Josiah who is one of the nastiest wackos to grace a western in a long while. He makes Gene Hackman’s bad sheriff character in Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven seem like Mr Bean! Jason Isaacs looks like he’s have a ball playing a totally over-the-top character, but he manages to just about pull it off with a thousand yard stare and some nasty knife work.
I think the main problem with a lot of revenge films is their predictability, although the audience has its expectations and if those are messed with we kind of hate the filmmakers for letting us down. There’s a bit of a twist in the tail here, but nothing that hasn’t played out before. Even the fact that the main character is a female protagonist has been done before, although, admittedly, not so much.
The film positively squeezes drama into it’s fairly short running time: murder, rape, sheep rustling, pets getting killed, priests having multiple wives, bankers and lawmen on the take (nothing changes there then), a punch-up in a jailhouse, the tensest dinner party ever, crucifixion, crazy men jigging in the middle of a town, paedophilia, weird conversations with a bible, mothers who are also whores, arson, perps being graphically cut open to obtain bullets for examination, and a bloody shoot out in a sheep stockade.
The film is nicely shot and well played by a game cast and holds the attention. I just wish the script had managed to surprise the viewer a little more. It’s certainly recommended for fans of down and dirty westerns.
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Sweet Vengeance has just been released by Entertainment One Ltd. The DVD has trailers for some recent releases, namely Parker, Side Effects, Mud and Welcome to the Punch. Also on the disc is a ‘Making of’ documentary, which is primarily an epk, but it’s fairly well done and not too arse-licky!