[Warnings: This review contains spoilers. Also, the film has sexual content.]
CAPSULE: A gang of outlaws robs a bank and holes up in an isolated house on the prairie. The family tensions, seemingly small at first, boil over with really unexpected results. Most of the frontier atmosphere feels authentic until it doesn't. And then several things go strange. This is really not a traditional Western. This is a playful film that takes chances, not all of which pay off well. J. T. Mollner writes and directs. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
There is a 1963 Italian horror film entitled "WHAT!". The implication of the title is that there is a plot twist that will leave the viewer truly boggled. Sadly the film did not have that power, and it seemed to me unlikely that any film could deserve that title. With OUTLAWS AND ANGELS it finally happened. I cannot speak for the viewer but OUTLAWS AND ANGELS has some of the most startling plot twists of any film I have ever seen. It takes a long time to get to the surprises--much too long for the film's good--but once you are there the whole film twists in plot, style, and tone. Up to that moment one wondered what exact mind games were the characters playing with each other. But when things change the question is what mind games the director is playing with the viewer.
It is 1887 in Cuchillo, New Mexico. Five desperadoes have robbed the bank in town. One is killed in the getaway, and another dies shortly thereafter as the gang is ready to murder anyone in their way. They ride off with two bounty hunters in what would be called "lukewarm" pursuit--no pun intended by the main bounty hunter is played by a strangely cast Luke Wilson. Out on the trail the robbers see an isolated house, the home of a dysfunctional family of four. The outlaws decide to hole up and rest in the house. The family is recovering alcoholic George (Ben Browder), his wife Ada (Teri Polo) and their two bickering daughters, Charlotte (Madisen Beaty) and fifteen-year-old Flo (Francesca Eastwood, daughter of Clint). Flo takes an immediate interest in wanting to understand them and perhaps learning something useful to save her family. This part of the story drags a bit as writer and director J. T. Mollner lets some sequences over-extend on with little happening. Tensions rise as the story moves to a reckoning.
There are several problems with ANGELS AND OUTLAWS. One problem is just the makeup for the actors. It probably is intended to make them look sweaty, but instead the effect is to make them glossy--so glossy that they seem to reflect the studio lights and the reflections become a distraction. Lines of dialog are lost in indistinct enunciation made harder by accent. Well into the film there is a clothing anachronism that contradicts the plot and characterization. The film is short on film rather than digital and some of cinematographer Matthew Irving's outdoor vistas are beautiful and what you see a Western for. However, most of the story takes place in-doors, most of that in one room. There is little use of the wide-screen.
This film takes some truly unexpected turns and does much unexpected. It is mediocre as a western film, but it is more a game between the filmmakers and the viewers. I rate OUTLAWS AND ANGELS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It goes into a limited release on July 15.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3491962/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/outlaws_and_angels/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2016 Mark R. Leeper