It was only a matter of time before Scott Eastwood, the son of legendary actor-director Clint Eastwood, started tackling films in the genre that made his father a household name. The younger Eastwood has steered clear for a while, appearing in a few war films such as “Fury” and his dad’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” and taking the lead in the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ “The Longest Ride,” to name a few of his projects. It’s a shame, though, that his first foray into the western genre is a lousy effort by the name of “Diablo,” which releases to limited theaters and VOD on Jan. 8.
At just 83 minutes (that’s including credits), “Diablo” takes no time for set up. We’re immediately dropped into a scene in which a Mexican gang torches the home of a man named Jackson (Eastwood) and then takes his wife Alexsandra (Camilla Belle) hostage. Jackson’s neighbors then assist him with getting on his way so he can find his wife. Before he leaves, they tell him that they’re not sure what kind of trouble he’s in and that they have yet to meet his new bride.
And that comment reveals just one of the many issues within “Diablo.” The audience also doesn’t know why Jackson’s house was torched and why the Mexican gang wanted to steal his wife. There’s never a scene involving Jackson and his wife prior to this event taking place, and there’s never any moment showing us why this gang is after him. It’s not until a pivotal moment in the film in which we figure out what’s going on, and why we should actually care about the character and the film as a whole.
When all the pieces fall into place, the film comes across as almost a complete waste of time. “Diablo” does have some decent cinematography by Dean Cudney, whose resume includes “Jurassic Park”; the “Back to the Future” trilogy; and “Halloween.” Granted, it’s nothing breathtaking, but it’s miles better than just about everything else in the movie.
Along the way, Jackson comes across numerous characters, including a murderous thief named Ezra, played by Walton Goggins – who delivered a stellar performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” Here, Goggins’ role is brief, but it’s also the only performance that has some kind of spark to it. Other actors include Adam Beach and Danny Glover. Like Goggins, their roles are brief. Unlike Goggins, Beach and Glover appear to be phoning it in.
Eastwood, looking exactly like his father with the scowl, lacks any kind of charisma. The conversations he has with the people he encounters comes across as awkward and uninvolving. Even when he tries to come across as tough in a few scenes, his performance feels off. And unlike his father, “Diablo” focuses too much on keeping his pretty look, and not making him look dirty and weary.
Almost each interaction Jackson has with a character is loaded with exposition and repetition. “Diablo” takes place seven years after the end of the Civil War. We’re told this in both the prologue text and during a conversation with Benjamin Carver (Glover), an acquaintance who served with Jackson. We’re also shown in one scene, and only one scene, that Jackson is haunted by the accidental killing of his brother during the war. During his conversation with Ben, the two talk about how Jackson is haunted by the accidental killing of his brother.
Talk about really wanting the audience to understand those facts about the film. Geez!
Of all the characters Jackson meets along the way, Ben is the most unnecessary. Almost every single line of dialogue he and Jackson have is about something that we already know. Sure, we get a little more, since Jackson seeks him out for help in finding his wife. But the whole scene adds nothing to the overall story. Its main purpose is to set up the story’s big, ridiculous reveal, and that’s it. Once the twist is unveiled, that scene, and basically the rest of the movie, comes across as pointless.
The western genre kind of saw a boost in quality entertainment last year in the indie department. Films like “Slow West” and “Bone Tomahawk” showed that there are filmmakers who can still give us a good old-fashioned cowboy story, and they both added their own little twist to the genre. Even “The Hateful Eight” told an intriguing tale, despite being just a good Tarantino effort and not a great one. “Diablo,” unfortunately, is not like those other films. It is a lopsided, tedious western that is an insult to the viewer’s intelligence, and has one of the most awful endings to a film in years.