A former prostitute done wrong by an unhinged cult leader gets her revenge, in this subversion of the Western genre. Stylishly directed by Logan Miller (Touching Home) and starring Ed Harris, January Jones and Jason Isaacs, Sweetwater is a modern re-invention of the standard revenge flick. Known as Sweet Vengeance in some international markets, it straddles the line between traditional Westerns and more recent examples from the genre. Despite a hammy performance from Ed Harris as a loony sheriff, Sweetwater primarily works due to a gritty performance from January Jones and a solid script.
Sarah Ramírez (January Jones) and her husband, Miguel (Eduardo Noriega), keep to themselves in New Mexico as they live next to a small religious community on the plains headed by a unhinged preacher, Josiah (Jason Isaacs). Josiah’s group are practicing polygamists, though it seems the polygamy is solely reserved for Josiah’s lustful desires in the community. Miguel and Josiah have a dispute over Josiah’s sheep grazing on Miguel’s land. The cult leader despises the interracial couple and uses this as an excuse to murder Miguel. Josiah is no stranger to murder, having killed two travelers that earlier crossed his land.
Pregnant with their child, Sarah is now left to fend for herself without Miguel and till the land. That situation leads to her miscarriage. Bitter and realizing the religious leader is behind Miguel’s murder, the seeds of her vengeance begin to grow. Another party soon becomes interested in Josiah. A tough, off-beat sheriff named Cornelius Jackson (Ed Harris) rides into town, looking to solve the murder of the two travelers. Using forensic evidence, the sheriff traces their murder back to Josiah and his men. Jackson comes across the grieving widow but doesn’t realize yet that Josiah was also behind her husband’s murder.
The continuing story gets driven by those driving forces, as Sarah looks to take her vengeance on Josiah’s entire community and Jackson investigates both of them. It then becomes a fairly standard revenge-oriented Western fantasy, as Sarah starts killing off Josiah’s men one by one. The female protagonist is rare in Westerns but the modern twist works quite well due to January Jone’s very convincing performance as a tough ex-prostitute, handy with a gun and riding a horse. I was less enamored with Ed Harris’s free-spirited sheriff, a role that goes almost too far outside the grain. Jason Isaacs plays the typical, two-dimensional cult leader, but he provides the necessary villain for this movie.
Sweetwater is not a flawless movie but its credible performances and solid story produce an entertaining twist on the standard Western. The real reason to give this movie a chance is January Jones, playing a role rarely reserved for women in Westerns.
Sweetwater has a very distinct aesthetic on Blu-ray, rendered in grainy film and blown-out highlights. Its rough-hewn appearance is not eye candy, forged in waves of grain and flat, dull colors. The limited color palette has some minor contrast issues at times. Struck from a Digital Intermediate, the film source shows regular bouts of ringing and aliasing. This film was an independent production, so its finished look does not have quite the refinement or polish of better Hollywood films.
Arc Entertainment has provided sufficient technical parameters for Sweetwater. The main feature is encoded in AVC at nearly 25 Mbps on average. While not overwhelming, the video encode handles the film’s natural grain without much problem. Overall detail and clarity are merely average. The few scenes at night have problems rendering normal shadow delineation. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio highlights the interesting Western-style cinematography.
No one will characterize this 1080P video as a pretty picture but this Blu-ray seems fairly faithful to the filmmakers’ intentions.
The only audio option is a serviceable 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Dialogue is firmly anchored to the center channel in crystal clarity and surround channels provide the occasional directional cue. This is not a sweeping mix littered with a huge soundstage but does contain decent shotgun blasts and minor panning effects. The final shootout has some punch to it, including a complex scene involving sheep and horses. This is a decent soundtrack that will not win any awards but offers fine fidelity for the Western-style action.
English SDH subtitles are the only choice offered for subtitles. They display in a white font, inside the 2.35:1 frame of the film.
Arc Entertainment provides a couple of extra features, though a commentary from director Logan Miller would have made for a nice addition. Copies found at Walmart should include a VUDU digital copy and also a DVD.
Trailer (01:37 in HD) – A somewhat misleading trailer that touches on the basic theme of revenge in Sweetwater.
“Cold Grey Light of Dawn” By Hudson Moore (03:19) – The audio for this song is set to a still photograph of Hudson Moore. This song is the ending theme for Sweetwater.
The Making of Sweetwater (10:32 in HD) – A fairly extensive featurette that prominently features all of the primary cast members, including Ed Harris and January Jones. Topics range from the movie’s themes to background information on the production. One almost wishes this documentary featurette had run longer and included more of the cast’s interviews.
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