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Heaven’s Gate

The first scenes of Heaven's Gate are so energetic and beautiful that anyone who knows the saga of the $35 million epic might begin to think it was going to be worth every penny. Unfortunately the balance of director Michael Cimino's film is so confusing, so overlong at three-and-a-half hours and so ponderous that it fails to work at almost every level.

The first scenes of Heaven’s Gate are so energetic and beautiful that anyone who knows the saga of the $35 million epic might begin to think it was going to be worth every penny. Unfortunately the balance of director Michael Cimino’s film is so confusing, so overlong at three-and-a-half hours and so ponderous that it fails to work at almost every level.

What structure the film does have is based on the Johnson County wars which took place in the 1890s in Wyoming.

The story deals with a group of established cattlemen headed by Canton (Sam Waterston) who are convinced their herds are being looted by immigrant settlers. With the approval of the state, the operators of the large cattle ranches draw up a death list of 125 poor immigrants in Johnson County who are supposedly doing the ‘rustling’. Kris Kristopherson plays the Federal marshall who turned against his class.

Cimino’s attempts to draw a portrait of the plight of the immigrants in the west in that period are so impersonal that none of the victims ever get beyond pat stereotypes.

Cimino, who wrote the script himself, has simply not provided enough details for his story, leaving his audience guessing.

1981: Nomination: Best Art Direction

Heaven’s Gate

  • Production: United Artists. Dir Michael Cimino; Producer Joann Carelli; Screenplay Michael Cimino; Camera Vilmos Zsigmond; Editor Tom Rolf, William Reynolds, Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald Greenberg; Music David Mansfield Art Dir Tambi Larsen
  • Crew: (Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1980. Running time: 219 MIN.
  • With: Kris Kristofferson Christopher Walken Isabelle Huppert Sam Waterston John Hurt Jeff Bridges