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Heaven's Gate (Criterion) (Disc 1 of 2) back to product details

"It's getting dangerous to be poor in this country."
written by Lastcrackerjack April 14, 2006 - 10:04 PM PDT
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful
Writer and director Michael Cimino surpassed his Best Picture Oscar winner "The Deer Hunter" in terms of vision, writing, cinematography, casting, musical score and editing, which all come together in an epic of brilliant, haunting imagery. Even with a running time of 3 hours 39 minutes, this is a masterpiece in lyrical beauty that is approached by few other films.

With a cast that also included Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Sam Waterson, Brad Dourif, Richard Mazur, Geoffrey Lewis and Mickey Rourke, Cimino succeeds in writing both character and dialogue (dialogue was all but absent from "The Deer Hunter") of real pathos and complexity.

The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond captures some of the most beautiful imagery ever put on film. Not only is the lighting gorgeous, but the camera movement - with sweeping dolly shots, never any handheld - is audacious. Cimino's location scouts once again found the perfect mountain wilderness and lakes to put on film and Zsigmond lenses them boldly.

The "cast of thousands" are put to jaw-dropping use here - in an era before digital compositing no less - most notably in the Harvard prologue and our arrival in Casper, Wyoming. No movie has ever recreated a bygone urban area with the detail and epic scope of this film, not even "Gangs of New York". The money is on the screen.

Heaven's Gate is a reception hall which plays host to the film's best sequence - a town "dance" in which villagers don roller skates. This may sound goofy, but the dance is wonderfully choreographed. The musical score by David Mansfield is hands down the finest written for a western ever. Mansfield himself plays the fiddle player the camera follows as he skates around the hall.

Kristofferson & Huppert adjourn from the dance to share a conversation while looking out across one of those gorgeous glass lakes that Cimino seems so fond of. When they return to the hall, it's emptied, and the two share a dance in what caps off a sequence of amazing lighting, art direction, music, choreography and acting.

The climactic gun battle is exciting, but gunfights are really the least interesting thing in the movie. The illumination of a darker chapter of U.S. history than is usually revealed in the western genre, and the framing of those events with incredibly textured and beautiful imagery is the real reason to see Heavens Gate.

In 100 years, I doubt anyone will be able to believe the hate leveled against this film or understand why Cimino was barely heard from again.


(Average 6.67)
58 Votes
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