Outlaws and Angels, MGM, 120 min, 2016
Director-writer J.T. Mollner’s debut film is a Western only in the most ostensible sense. Sure, the hats, guns and horses are all there, but the iconography seems lazily tacked onto a movie that at its core needed little else than a secluded cabin in the woods. It’s a home-invasion film amid a carousel of violence that will appeal more to fans of slasher gore-fests than Westerns. It might call to mind Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 The Hateful Eight, but not for long; Mollner’s movie is more hateful, distasteful and shallow.
Three bank robbers on the run to Mexico stop over at an isolated ranch house where they employ physical and sexual violence to harass and threaten a family of four. The film, like many home-invasion pictures, reveals that the victims within—in this case a supposedly pious frontier family—carry with them as much grotesqueness as the external attackers. Mollner employs this dramatic hinge mostly as a means to delve deeper into the sexual violence, but on the pretense the victims somehow deserve it.
The film’s final third becomes a coming-of-age tale for youngest daughter Florence. She is played with a convincing wide-eyed swagger by Francesca Eastwood (Clint’s daughter), but Mollner draws little tension from her internal strife. Her transformation from girl to gunslinger just sort of happens. Chad Michael Murray is one-note but steady as Henry, the leader of the trio of bank robbers. His henchmen (Keith Loneker and Nathan Russell) waver between sadistic and goofy. It is as if they were plucked from a Sam Peckinpah film, but while crude they lack the jocoseness and unpredictability that, say, Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones brought to The Wild Bunch. Luke Wilson and Steven Michael Quezada are forgettable bounty hunters.
Mollner and cinematographer Matthew Irving shot on film with a 1970s-era Panasonic camera, and their style puts a nice sheen of grime on the already dark proceedings. They’ve got the grime down, there’s no doubt about that. But grime is about all Outlaws and Angels has going for it.