Film Review: ‘Diablo’

diablo-scott-eastwood
Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

This retro Western is worth watching mostly to see Scott Eastwood tackle a role straight out of his famous father’s playbook.

A squinty-eyed, cigarillo-chomping gunslinger of nebulous motives played by an actor with the last name Eastwood. An abducted woman. A few bloody shootouts. Some lovely footage of the American frontier, as played by a foreign country. On the surface, “Diablo” would seem to have all of the proper ingredients for a rollicking retro Western, yet its sights are set a bit higher, which inspires both admiration for its moxie and disappointment that its script and direction aren’t up to the challenge. Worth watching mostly to see Scott Eastwood tackle a role straight out of his famous father’s playbook — he nails the mannerisms, though the character never takes shape — “Diablo” is certainly more ambitious than the average slice of downmarket Netflix genre fodder, but looks destined for much the same commercial fate.

The second feature from director Lawrence Roeck (“The Forger”), “Diablo” boasts the skeleton of an interesting allegorical oater — at times even a horse-mounted psychological thriller — but Carlos de los Rios’ screenplay never manages to provide flesh or a beating heart, leaving the whole endeavor feeling more like a rough draft. Following a title card that places us in the Colorado Territory seven years after the end of the Civil War, the film drops us cold into a late-night raid, with a quartet of Mexican bandits setting fire to the home of Jackson (Eastwood) and making off with his wife, Alexsandra (Camilla Belle). Managing to salvage his trusty steed and trusty sidearms, Jackson sets off in pursuit.

Despite its lean running time and aversion to superfluous detail, the film locks into a loose, ambling rhythm in the early going as Jackson traverses the snowy terrain. (Alberta subs well for Colorado here, and d.p. Dean Cundey makes nice use of drone photography to take in the surroundings.) We initially know nothing about Jackson or his wife prior to the kidnapping, though the chilly reception he gets from the various frontier types he encounters telegraphs that our hero might not be all that he seems.

Jackson’s travels bring him into contact with a traveling Chinese merchant (Tzi Ma), a curious Native American boy (Samuel Marty) and a fellow Civil War veteran (Danny Glover), but his recurring antagonist is Ezra, a strutting, sarcastic psychopath with a sickly brown-toothed smile and a jones for indiscriminate murder. Played by Walton Goggins with Mephistophelean brio, Ezra brings an immense deal of life to the film in his all too brief scenes, and Goggins’ presence here, in addition to the nearly identical setting, all but begs for comparisons to “The Hateful Eight” which are unlikely to be in “Diablo’s” favor.

That the film is heading for a big reveal roughly two-thirds of the way through will come as little surprise. The twist — much more Stevenson than Shyamalan — isn’t without promise, and allows for Eastwood to essay a broader spectrum of emotions than simple flinty toughness. Yet it’s nonetheless clumsily handled, and the last stretch of the film goes south in a hurry, climaxing with an almost parodically implausible gun battle.

As for Eastwood, upstaged though he may be by both Goggins and Glover, there’s something bold about his willingness to so directly invoke his father, especially considering how uncannily alike the two look; even if his primary strengths as an actor lie elsewhere, the flimsiness of his character here is more down to the writing than the performance. Technical credits are strong, and despite a somewhat portentous score, the film looks excellent for its budget.

Film Review: 'Diablo'

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, Jan. 7, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 83 MIN.

Production

A Momentum Pictures release of a Space Rock Studios production. Produced by Shana D. Wilson, Lawrence Roeck, Carlos de los Rios. Executive producer, Wilson.

Crew

Directed by Lawrence Roeck, Screenplay, Carlos de los Rios, from a story by Roeck. Camera (color), Dean Cundey; editor, Kyle Sanborn; music, Timothy Williams; production designer, Trevor Smith; costume designer, Christine Thomson; set decorator, Amber Humphries; sound, Kelly Zombor; re-recording mixers, Kevin O’Connell, Steven Ticknor; visual effects supervisor, Derek Smith; visual effects, Drawn by the Light; assistant director, Mark Ambury; casting, Roger Mussenden, Rhonda Fisekci.

With

Scott Eastwood, Walton Goggins, Camilla Belle, Adam Beach, Samuel Marty, Jose Zuniga, Tzi Ma, Joaquim De Almeida, Danny Glover, Nesta Cooper. (English, Spanish, Cree dialogue)

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  1. “On the surface, ‘Diablo’ would seem to have all of the proper ingredients for a rollicking retro Western, yet its sights are set a bit higher.”

    I’d almost argue that’s the problem, in part, with so many “modern” Westerns. Rather than make a “rollicking retro Western” delivering the goods, filmmakers these days seem to feel like they MUST “justify” the film. And so, we get a lot of Western that stylistically ape “Unforgiven” and go for “dark/gritty” and “solemn/somber”. The closest things we get to “fun” Westerns since the 1990s (aside from Quentin Tarantino’s latest two movies, of course) have been…”The Lone Ranger” and “A Million Ways To Die In The West” (and, if you can count it, that Sandler Netflix thing…).

  2. Norma says:

    Loved it! I think picking an actor who looks so much like an iconic western hero was deliberate because the main character starts out as an hero out of an old fashioned spaghetti western but then the story takes a very unexpected twist :-). Scott Eastwood (who looks like his dad but not that much) had a great time making fun of his father. I hope he’ll turn out like Keefer Sutherland who also bears a strong resemblance to his dad but turned out to have a great acting career because of his own talent.

  3. Chuck Rupert says:

    Forget the dismal script and lets get to the meat. Eastwood displays none of the characteristic strengths of his father. Clint owned the screen in every scene. His cool, calm toughness, if not realistic was at least admirable. We wanted it to be real, so it was. When he spoke, we savored every gritty word and could repeat the iconic passages after seeing his movies a dozen times.

    By contrast, sonny was a superficial blot on screen. Only the occasional hint of his dad’s famous facial expressions added the least significance to his presence. There was nothing in his acting that we wanted to be real–much we wanted to pretend we didn’t see. Far from iconic, the dialog was completely forgettable (thank God we wont have to struggle to keep from remembering it!)

    I hoped to learn more about Scott. Now I’m not sure if this was his failure to cut it as an actor, or if we are simply expecting the reincarnation of what cannot be, What I do know is he had better choose his scripts more carefully, whether he wants to step into his father’s very big boots, or even cut his own path. If he shoots himself in the foot in his next film, I’m gonna’ mosey on down the ol’ dusty trail and not look back [cut to a shot of my horse and I disappearing over the horizon]

  4. Don Lepars says:

    Worst Eastwood Movie Ever!
    Scott Eastwood needs to watch all of his father’s movies again if he is going to try and claim his fame as his own.

    The plot of the movie was horrible and never really got going . The big reveal was a bigger disappointment

  5. Lance Greeff says:

    Lance Greeff wrote: I am a fan of Scott Eastwood but this film was truly poor

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