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Overall Rating

Awesome: 25.88%
Worth A Look: 5.88%
Just Average: 5.88%
Pretty Crappy: 28.24%

5 reviews, 55 user ratings

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Heaven's Gate
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by Charles Tatum

"Heaven Should Wait"
2 stars

Over thirty years after its release, "Heaven's Gate" has become synonymous with the term "big budget disaster." Up until recently, when an expensive film bombed, this film was used as the watermark example of Hollywood spending gone mad ("Waterworld," "Cutthroat Island"). Watching it now, with the hoopla and criticism in the past, I can honestly say that while it was a financial disaster, its flaws were not just monetary.

Writer/director Michael Cimino, riding high on the success of the awesome "The Deer Hunter," decided to dramatize the 1870 Johnson County War, where mostly immigrant homesteaders settling in Wyoming were subject to harassment and eventually state-sponsored murder at the hands of the rich conglomerate cattle stockmen's association. It was farmers vs. cattlemen, poor vs. rich, immigrants vs. citizens, them vs. us. Caught in the middle of the conflict is a love triangle- sheriff James Averill (the always good Kris Kristofferson) and mercenary Nathan Champion (Christopher Walken) are both in love with cathouse madam Ella (Isabelle Huppert).

I watched the original 220 minute premiere version, which was later edited by almost an hour and released as the studio tried to recoup their losses. For such a long film, the plot is simple and straightforward, but populated by a giant cast of unnecessary characters. Averill's college best friend, Billy (John Hurt), is introduced in the now infamous opening scenes set at Harvard (filmed at Oxford), and is then relegated to the background, as if the film makers didn't have the heart to tell Hurt he was no longer needed. The same can be said for some of the talented names (is that Brad Dourif?) in small roles. The cast is stunning, though. In addition to Kristofferson, Walken, Huppert (who spends more screen time naked than clothed), Hurt, and Dourif, you can see Jeff Bridges in what must have been a cameo awkwardly expanded to a supporting part, Joseph Cotten, Sam Waterston, Terry O'Quinn, Tom Noonan, Mickey Rourke, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, T-Bone Burnett, and Willem Dafoe.

The set decoration/art direction (the film's only Oscar nomination, losing to "Raiders of the Lost Ark") is spectacular. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is pure visual art. Many scenes look painted and beautiful, smoky and orange/brown. There is a lot of money on the screen.

Cimino's script needed to be taken in. The story has no focus. Averill is our obvious hero, but his motivations are as cloudy as Zsigmond's train shots. Waterston's Canton is an over-the-top evil villain, complete with a weaselly mustache. The cast of immigrants blend into one giant Yakov Smirnoff look-alike contest. The battle scenes, while appropriately chaotic, are difficult to discern. At one point, I was certain Bridges' character had been shot and killed, only to have him show up alive and well.

The direction is sometimes impressive, the first onscreen murder is an explosion of style and violence. However, for every scene like that, we get pablum like the bizarre and weak running joke about Averill's boots. Many scenes go on forever, like the Harvard scene and the skating rink speeches. The overuse of "The Blue Danube Waltz" only reminded me of "2001: A Space Odyssey." The class warfare exhibited here is appropriate in today's political climate, but the irony of this film almost bankrupting a studio and becoming the epitome of financial excess while championing "the little guy" is classic.

Careers were ruined, Cimino never seemed to recover; I found his later "The Sicilian" and "Desperate Hours" unwatchable, worse than "Heaven's Gate". Time supposedly heals all wounds, so you can view this film today for what it is- a bloated, pretty mess.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1228&reviewer=325
originally posted: 04/13/13 14:25:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/11/16 Bradley Hayman The worst movie of all time. Poor on a fundamental level 1 stars
4/10/15 FireWithFire A GROSSLY,Leftist-1960s-generation-distortion of the Johnson Co. War 1 stars
8/10/14 D. The R. Takes out-of-control self-indulgence to the level of a metaphysical art. 1 stars
11/25/13 Quigley Not the worst out there, but definitely one of the most boring films ever made. 2 stars
6/08/13 Fire With Fire Typical '70s US movie: Preachy,Leftist,Anti-American shit,plus it's interminably BORING. 1 stars
5/16/13 dr.lao A truly agonizing film experience 1 stars
3/08/13 Jeremy Kendal Heaven's Gate, albeit imperfect, will stay as a gorgeous masterpiece. 5 stars
10/26/12 dede This is worth seeing -- not nearly as bad as some reviewers would have you believe 4 stars
2/26/12 Mark Sawyer The real story here is that Deer Hunter is overrated--HG is better 5 stars
11/15/11 Dane Youssef Heaven is so ugly in this movie, you want to take a moment to consider the alternative. 1 stars
1/27/11 Josie Cotton is a goddess Not a great movie, but It has more merit then people will admit 3 stars
12/14/10 buzz gundersun the film went down for political reason. the children and grandchildren of the evil cattlem 5 stars
8/28/09 Jeff Wilder Bad sure. But I can think of 10 movies excruciatingly worse without doing any research. 2 stars
5/21/09 Duke of Omnium A train wreck from the opening credits to the epilogue 1 stars
12/31/08 brian Gorgeous but lost wandering around within itself. Worth seeing once. 3 stars
4/09/08 Bryan Stephens A beautiful, near perfect film. One day, the consensus will come around to recognizing it. 5 stars
2/10/08 zenshark Don't bother. 1 stars
7/19/07 Todd Cameron An important, de-mythologized look at the West. 5 stars
2/11/07 Spencer Steel Has to be seen to be believed 1 stars
1/29/06 Klaugartoff "One of the most boring, but interesting"... WTF? That's like "excellent, but really bad". 2 stars
1/15/06 Daveman Even the nice photography is superficial in that it only serves to exhalt vacuous nonsense. 1 stars
1/06/06 David Lormans Much better than its reputation 4 stars
12/27/05 Bill terrible 1 stars
12/27/05 joe hard to believe a film can be this bad while pretending to be an important epic 1 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins ahhhhhh! Makes my brain hurt. 1 stars
7/14/05 John sets no standards for boring, self indulgence and self importance 1 stars
4/30/05 Sergio The film with the bummest rap in film history. A near masterpiece! 5 stars
12/10/04 Lucas Stensland Big business controls gov. and murders the poor. Very relevant. Thanks Dubya. 5 stars
11/09/04 D. Kremer Too many people's knee-jerk reaction is to crucify this film? Watch it first. Really. 5 stars
10/31/04 Camilla Extremely beautiful 5 stars
9/13/04 Michael Don't believe the hype, an accomplished, beautiful film. 4 stars
7/19/04 sdfr don't know why the bad word of mouth, this is a good movie! 4 stars
7/03/04 Mary Simultaneously ultraviolent and ultraboring; an amazing accomplishment! 1 stars
6/24/04 Karen Stockdale I so wanted to admire this film - but instead I just love it 4 stars
6/21/04 Xavier R. Maybe I'm the 2nd rating Awsome but not the last 5 stars
3/12/04 Chris J. Who on earth are the 19.35% that rated this film "awesome"? 1 stars
12/07/03 Mike The ,ost painful film I've ever watched. It sucks! 1 stars
11/27/03 John mr cimino's overindulgence in his non existent genius - good music for what it's worth 1 stars
11/21/03 adguy If Ed Wood had been given a blank check, his movie would have looked like this. 2 stars
4/11/03 Earl Dittman - Wireless Magazine The most justly maligned film in cinema history. 1 stars
12/28/02 Jack Sommersby Magnificent photography; godawful story and characters. 1 stars
2/11/02 john james could've been a great film, but it was so poorly written. stunning cinematography, though. 3 stars
8/20/01 Alan Stuart The very good elements do not make a convincing whole 3 stars
6/18/01 Steve Langton The most unjustly maligned film in cinema history. 5 stars
4/10/01 iCaptain Yossarian! Confused but forever breathtaking. 5 stars
10/02/00 bobabooey It seemed like it was 3 DAYS long! 1 stars
7/18/00 iCaptain Yossarian! The best movie I've seen. Has all the coherance it needs to keep your attention! Top notch 5 stars
2/26/00 Steve Magee Great photography,Great music, Great Film. 5 stars
2/18/00 Joe Morgan Excellent fucking movie. Excellent detail 5 stars
1/15/00 Steve DeLisle Cimematography, great! Everything else, bad! 2 stars
10/07/99 Larry Gannett Millions went starving in '80 for the cash shilled out to this dreckfest. 2 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Ive never seen anything that is quite as fucking shit as this pile of crap. 1 stars
11/25/98 little jerry I wanted to say it is the most justly maligned film of all time but it isn't that good. 3 stars
10/24/98 Vincent The most unjustly maligned film of all time- a masterpiece 5 stars
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  19-Nov-1980 (R)
  DVD: 29-Feb-2000



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