While Sweetwater could be called yet another variation on the 1971 Raquel Welch vehicle Hannie Caulder (sans the gang rape and the shooting lessons) it is a different sort of western underneath that premise.
A few years ahead of the Natalie Portman “Caulder remake” Jane Got a Gun Sweetwater has a heroine that asks no one for help. Unlike Caulder and Jane, this woman can shoot already, she is, in fact a better shot than her soon to be dead husband.
The story follows a trio of different people whose paths converge. Sarah Ramirez (January Jones), Prophet Josiah (Jason Isaacs) and Sheriff Jackson (Ed Harris) are all drawn to each other for different reasons.
Josiah murders Sarah’s husband Miguel (Eduardo Noriega) as well as a couple of trespassers. Jackson comes to find the dead trespassers and gets involved with solving the crime as well as a new murder committed by Sarah.
The three main characters are diverse beyond age and gender. Josiah is clearly a renegade Mormon. Jackson references the prophet’s moving from Utah and his “many” wives. Sarah was a prostitute in the very town that she and Miguel lived outside of. The sheriff is an eccentric man who is years ahead in the detecting game.
Out of the three, Jackson is outwardly a little nuts. His demeanor is, overall, one of joy. Right up until he beats the town marshall (Luce Rains) into submission and then shoots him in the hand, Jackson is disturbingly cheerful.
Later, when he questions Josiah about the two missing men, his behavior is callous, aggressive and threatening. The sheriff may be a tad different but he is not certifiable.
Josiah, on the other hand, is clearly as mad as a box of frogs. He has fits, after raving and reading his Bible, and then goes on to do horrible things. His goal seems to be, apart from procreating with all his wives, to take over the territory around him.
Sarah goes through a major amount of tribulations as the film progresses. She loses her dog, husband, the baby she is carrying and gets raped as well. Finally the former prostitute has had enough. Sarah Ramirez exacts her revenge one bullet at a time.
At its core, Sweetwater, is a thriller and a revenge picture set in the old west. The film is, however, a western by virtue of the trappings and time period. Regardless of the base genre, this is a brilliantly quirky oater.
The characters are different and not what one usually finds in the genre. A peeping tom store owner, a banker (played detestably by Stephen Root) who decides he will pay out Sarah’s savings one dollar at a time, in exchange for oral sex and a religious zealot who covets a lot more than his neighbor’s wife.
The cinematography is stunning. One can almost feel the heat, taste the dust and smell the sheep, as the camera follows events in the film.
Sweetwater feels a bit operatic in nature, somewhat akin to a Leonie Spaghetti Western without the extreme closeups. Although there is also an element of “noir” in the film.
With an excellent cast of stellar performers this different sort of western is a cracking bit of entertainment. At 95 minutes the film does not lag nor does it race to a conclusion. Its pacing is just right.
Sweetwater is rated ‘R’ for violence, some sex and a bit of female and male nudity.
This is a 5 star effort by all concerned and this treat is streaming on Netflix at the moment. Fans of more traditional western fare may want to give this a miss. However, folks who like a bit of variety will get a kick out of this one.