Despite finding one of the ickiest movies I’ve ever seen starring Clint Eastwood’s daughter Francesca last week, I return undaunted to watch another Western starring another Clint Eastwood progeny, Scott Eastwood. I guess film companies think they can slap the Eastwood name on anything with a cowboy on the cover and strike cinematic gold. Let’s see how it works out this time, shall we?
This generically titled movie is not to be confused with Duel at Diablo or the Anthony Edwards/Louis Gossett Jr. oater El Diablo that played on HBO in constant rotation for about 20 years. This is simply Diablo and features a remarkably talented cast including Walton Goggins, Danny Glover, and Joaquin De Almeida.
This is a fairly traditional Western compared to last week’s deplorable Outlaws and Angels. Scott Eastwood is also a more traditional Western Hero: tall, rangy, ruggedly handsome, and with acting skills that run the gamut from “Stoic” to “Wooden.” From different angles, Scott resembles his father. He squints like his father, and sometimes he delivers one liners that, if you close your eyes, sound like his father. So this is kind of like watching a brand-new Clint Eastwood Western.
We start off with a suspicious lack of set up as some Mexican riders run out of a burning hut carrying a woman. We are then introduced to Scott Eastwood in silhouette with a rifle and a backdrop of fire. Given the title of the movie, this is like the filmmakers giving you an elbow in the ribs going, “Hey, symbolism. You get it?” This leads to Scott Eastwood grabbing his guns and saddling up to chase after the Mexicans, without bothering to ready supplies, a suitable coat for the snowy season, or nourishment of any kind. Nope, it’s off to the races and immediately he’s in a gunfight with one of the Mexican riders he wounded. I’m not complaining, at least stuff is happening, even if it’s a little shallow and silly.
In the biggest nod to classic Westerns, the movie is beautifully shot with lots of snowy scenes and trees and all sorts of riding through nature. Despite being set in the Colorado wilderness, this desolate wasteland has a remarkably high population. Eastwood keeps stumbling into armed people who attack him. There’s the Mexican guy with a rifle, then a Native American boy who tries to steal his stuff, then a Chinese merchant, then Walton Goggins shows up grinning and sweaty and being charmingly evil. Goggins shoots the Chinese merchant, but hesitates in killing Eastwood and they fight and Goggins magically disappears. Now the central question of the movie is posed: is Goggins actually the titular Diablo, or just a really bad dude? Or is something else going on here?
Well, without giving too much away, let’s just suggest this movie has more in common with High Plains Drifter or Donald Kaufman’s script for “The 3” in Adaptation. The Big Twist isn’t half as clever as the filmmakers think it is and I saw it coming about 20 minutes into the movie. But I appreciate the effort and it adds some much needed depth and ambiguity to a movie that’s otherwise just a redo of The Searchers. The Big Twist also places a nice accent on the final gunfight that I’ve never really seen before in a movie. So that’s pretty nifty, but I don’t want to spoil it.
Eastwood is fine as the taciturn hero. The script does all the dramatic lifting for him, letting him be stoic and Eastwoodian in his delivery. There are plenty of gunfights and he looks pretty natural on horseback. Of course, in these low-budget Westerns, his horse is inevitably shot and he has to spend most of the movie on foot to save money. Goggins is fun when he periodically shows up. At this point in his career, I wonder if it’s even possible for him to play a character that’s not a total scumbag. I always enjoy his toothsome grin and his crackling delivery of sly dialogue.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I was pleasantly surprised by Diablo. It’s designed to set up Scott Eastwood as a pistol-packing Western hero in the Clint Eastwood mold, and it does a good job of that. I don’t think he’s as charismatic as his father, but the movie has an answer for that, too. The plot ticks along with a steady stream of violent encounters and the whole movie plays like The Revenant with more mystical undertones and less bear rape, where the hero meets a steady string of idiosyncratic characters on his journey for revenge. So it meets its modest ambitions, and creates an entertaining entry into the low-budget Western genre. This movie probably makes Poppa Clint proud, versus Francesca’s embarrassment of a movie.
If you have Hulu it’s definitely worth checking out.