January Got a Gun. Or at least that would be a more interesting title for the moribund Western, Sweetwater, which somehow manages to screw up having Mad Men's sexy star January Jones as a gun-toting harbinger of vengeance. But then again writing/directing duo Noah and Logan Miller show utter incompetence merely getting the look and feel of the Old West right, and their haphazard attempts to add a touch of comic madness leave this version of the tumbleweed era totally flavorless.
Jones' ice queen demeanor may work on AMC's hit show but they make for a dull and lifeless heroine. In a grim and ugly New Mexico border town, she plays Sarah, a steely ex-prostitute now hooked up with Miguel (Eduardo Noriega), a wimpy landowner who absolutely doesn't wear the pants in that relationship. When he runs afoul of maniacal and murderous Mormon priest (Jason Isaacs) and winds up taking a dirt nap, Sarah is left alone to fend for herself, which she's more than capable of doing.
Literally dancing to the beat of his own drum is Ed Harris as Sheriff Jackson, who makes his comical entrances twirling like a ballerina before kicking the old lawman in the ass. It's a far cry from the more traditional gunslinger roles we've seen Harris play in the past, and perhaps is inspired in some small way by the off-kilter anti-genre flick Walker he starred in years ago. As the Sheriff and Josiah trade religious verse (and acts of violence) on their way to an inevitable showdown, Harris and Isaacs go waaaay over the edge in their performances to spruce up fairly generic roles. It may suit the off-beat tone of the film somewhat, but all of that is negated by how stiff and disinterested Jones seems to be. Her character suffers the most of them all; she's a town pariah, her husband's been killed, she becomes pregnant, gets raped, and much more happens to her along the way. But do we see any of that reflected in Jones' face or demeanor? She misplays nearly every emotional beat; even her quest for violent retribution is strangely dispassionate. Jones does get one terrific scene, though, using an umbrella to penetrate a would-be "peeping tom".
The west has never been less gritty, less pulpy than it is here, with the locale fading into the background when it should be a character in its own right. A more skillful hand could add a touch of stylized flair to the violence, and perhaps ratchet up the deadly slow pace which makes Sweetwater's 90 minute runtime feel like an epic wagon train.
Sweetwater hits DVD/Blu-Ray on Tuesday, December 31st.