Outlaws and Angels
We live in interesting times. We have people around the world trying to kill us. We have people in our own back yards trying to do the same. It’s no wonder we, as a nation, seem to have westerns on the brain again. We long for the time when we lived simpler lives and disputes were settled by guns. A time when getting in trouble with the law meant hopping on a horse and high tailing it to Mexico for a spell. A time of bounty hunters, of outlaws, and of angels.
Outlaws and Angels arrives just in time for the new wave of the modern westerns. Films like Slow West, Bone Tomahawk, and The Salvation opened the door for films like Outlaws and Angels to walk right in and take a seat at the bar, order up a whiskey, and maybe start a brawl before the night is through. If you ask me, this is a very good thing. These modern westerns deftly blend nods to classic American fare and over the top Italian “Spaghetti” westerns. Stern and stoic characters are combined with comic relief and drenched in blood and bullets. This is the world Outlaws and Angels lives in.
The film follows the story of bank robbers Henry (Chad Michael Murray, shedding his teen heartthrob One Tree Hill persona he’s probably best known for) and his gang as they run from bounty hunters after murdering a law man and an innocent woman during their last job. The gang is filled out by Charlie (Nathan Russell), Little Joe (Keith Loneker), and the quickly killed off Madison (Alex Vayshelboym). The audience is also introduced to the Tildons. The patriarch, George (Ben Browder), Ada (Teri Polo) Daughters Charlotte (Madison Beaty) and Florence (Francesca Eastwood, following in her father’s western footsteps). Pursuing the gang is a team of bounty hunters lead by Josiah (Luke Wilson) which gets smaller and smaller as they progress towards their target.
Outlaws and Angels has pacing issues. The film comes in at just around 120 minutes and it feels like nothing of note happens between the end of the opening credits and the first big twist which is about 75 minutes in. A major issue is that not once do you feel like Josiah and his men have a chance of catching up to Henry’s gang. Both groups casually walk as if there’s not a care in the world. While I understand that this is likely a much more realistic interpretation of what tracking would be like in the real world. The second half of the film blows open the door to do away with the chains of the “real world”. They missed a great opportunity to turn up the slow boil tension, to make you really care that these criminals get caught. A chance to build to a climactic event later in the film, which never happens. There could have been a nice juxtaposition between the doldrums of frontier life and the hot pursuit taking place only a few miles away. That may sound like a harsh criticism, but the reality of it is, the film doesn’t really need that.
Despite it’s pacing issues Outlaws and Angels serves up an engaging story. The interactions between characters feel real and sincere. Characters are layered and, with a few notable exceptions, portrayed brilliantly by their cast. No player in this western drama seems to be entirely who or what they seem to be. Unfortunately, for the sake of spoilers, this means I can’t really discuss the entire third act of the film which hits the audience with twists and false finishes like a cowboy shooting old bottles off a fence, one right after another. What I can say is that they deliberately paced two thirds lead up to a climax that is well worth the wait.
JT Mollner handles his first feature length film with the eye of a veteran. The writing and direction (Mollner pulling double duty) are both fantastic. I’d certainly be interested to see where he goes from here. I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground, you should too.
This “Weirdo” gives Outlaws and Angels 3 bullets loaded, out of 5
Outlaws and Angels opens in theaters and VOD on July 15th
Check out the trailer below