Review: DIABLO, A Western That Makes Its Genre Generic
The Western film genre, a main staple of American movies decades ago, but nowadays much scarcer, is currently enjoying a mini-revival, spearheaded by the current 70mm roadshow release of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, in which Tarantino continues to marry his loquaciously violent style with a classic American genre, just as he did with his last film, Django Unchained. So inevitably, there will be copycats ready to jump on the bandwagon and strive for a piece of reflected glory.
Right on schedule, in rides Diablo, the second feature by producer-director Lawrence Roeck. This particular Western is set several years post-Civil War, around the same time The Hateful Eight is set. Its main star is one Scott Eastwood, the son of some guy you may have heard of called Clint Eastwood, who starred in many iconic Westerns that helped to define the genre. I would love to be able to report that Eastwood fils nobly carries on his father's tradition in Diablo, but alas, that would be a lie. Even though Eastwood certainly has the right look, often uncannily resembling a younger version of his dad, the charisma, grit, and wit are sorely lacking in this tedious exercise that only reminds one of better films and makes one appreciate what filmmakers with distinctive personalities such as Tarantino can bring to this venerable genre.
Eastwood plays Jackson, a Civil War vet who at the outset is in pursuit of a group of Mexican bandits who have kidnapped his wife Alexsandra (Camilla Belle). The film thereafter takes the form of a picturesque road movie, during which Jackson encounters a number of characters along the way. These include a Chinese man (Tzi Ma), an Indian (Adam Beach) who treats him and offers him shelter after he gets wounded, and an old war buddy (Danny Glover) whose house he visits.
But the most significant, and persistently appearing, personage Jackson comes across is Ezra (Walton Goggins), a mysterious man clad in black whom we immediately assume is the titular "Diablo," or devil. During their first encounter, Ezra, who demands a "toll" for Jackson's passage, says the cost could include "maybe even your soul." The presence of Goggins, an inveterate scene-stealer, is Diablo's most direct connection to The Hateful Eight. All the scenes in which he appears, which are far too few, provide hints of the much better film Diablo could have been if there were any sort of novelty to this enterprise.
All this sets up the last-act twist that one can see coming for miles, and which does little to leaven the tedium that has already set in. It calls for Jackson to turn on a dime both physically and psychologically, but Eastwood unfortunately fails to pull this off convincingly. The inimitable heft that Clint Eastwood lent to his films is replaced here by Scott Eastwood's bland, passive blankness. But it's not entirely his fault; the lion's share of the blame for this movie's failure lies squarely at the feet of Roeck and his screenwriter Carlos de los Rios, who substitute a succession of pallid, hackneyed clichés in place of an actual compelling narrative.
In the end, it's a waste of not only the viewer's time, but of cinematographer Dean Cundey's handsomely photographed Alberta, Canada vistas (subbing for Colorado) that only serve to highlight this film's hollow core. In other words, if you're hankering for a Western featuring Walton Goggins, go see The Hateful Eight.
Diablo opens in theaters and will be available on VOD on January 8.
- Lawrence Roeck
- Carlos De Los Rios (screenplay)
- Lawrence Roeck (story)
- Scott Eastwood
- Walton Goggins
- Camilla Belle
- Adam Beach