Total Film - 10/01/2000
"...HEAVEN'S GATE still boasts a formidable cast and a visual scope to rival the likes of GLADIATOR..."
An epic post-Vietnam look at the Western genre and the exploitation of immigrant settlers, HEAVEN'S GATE is based on the historical 1890s Johnson County War incident in Wyoming. Visually remarkable sequences and a haunting score frame the story. Sheriff James Averill (Kris Kristofferson), educated in the east and full of idealism, attempts to protect immigrant farmers when wealthy land barons hire mercenaries to settle their scores. The hired guns, including Nathan Champion (Christopher Walken), plan to kill a number of farmers whose names appear on a death list and whom the farmers believe have been stealing their cattle. Backed by the army and the federal government, the mercenaries prepare to attack the farmers when Averill and Champion clash over the impending massacre and Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert), a local prostitute and woman they both love. Shot right after Cimino's triumphant DEER HUNTER, the film is a violent, unsentimental look at the American frontier.
A beautiful, emotionally rich film with meticulous attention to detail and period authenticity, HEAVEN'S GATE is an epic Western about tolerance. Based on actual historical events taking place in late 1800s Wyoming, the film stars Christopher Walken as a hired gun and Kris Kristofferson as an idealistic lawman in a struggle between wealthy landowners and impoverished immigrant farmers. Michael Cimino's bleak anti-Western became famous for its initial bad reviews and ill-fated production history, including severe budget overruns, but the film has since reached cult status.