Sidewinder’s View: Heaven’s Gate (1980)

The epic tale of a ruthless collective of elitist, crony-capitalism-indulging cattle barons at war with an overwrought horde of crude, belligerent, cattle-thieving European immigrants. Neither side respects the rule of law, nor the property rights of the other, and both resort to bloodthirsty vigilantism to achieve their own selfish ends.

It’s also the epic tale of a romantic triangle between a self-righteous, wealthy dilettante (Kris Kristofferson)…an opportunistic, dangerously obstinate prostitute (Isabelle Huppert)…and a cold-blooded-yet-sensitive hired gun (Christopher Walken) who undergoes a too-late change of heart about his employers.

The movie showcases magnificent cinematography, lavishly detailed production design, breathtaking landscapes, rousing dance numbers, bloody gun battles, and a terrific ensemble cast of character actors, many of whom could give an interesting performance just reading a phone book.

It also offers a wildly inaccurate depiction of historical figures and events, a predictable litany of tired class warfare nuggets, arid moments of pseudo-intellectual pontificating, bursts of melodramatic hysteria, curious lapses in both plausibility and logic, and a storytelling pace frequently in need of serious pruning.


…Heaven’s Gate remains one of my favorite movies. Far from perfect, its imperfections have only increased my fascination with the film over the years. If only Hollywood’s failures today were this interesting.