Unlike many people my age (who don't quite fit into Generation X or the Millenials), I was raised watching Westerns and it is a film genre that I particularly enjoy. My parents were Baby Boomers and they made sure my siblings and I knew about Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Paladin, the Lone Ranger, and the Cisco Kid. Most of the films we watched were somewhat melodramatic with a formulaic plot that included a good dose of humor and or music. I've re-watched some of those films recently and even the most formulaic of these stories is better than the average films Hollywood now pushes out. There are certain characteristics of the genre and the reason Westerns often seem to fail nowadays is because filmmakers just don't understand the genre. Such is the case with SHADOWHEART.
SHADOWHEART is an independent, low-budget Western that revolves around the character of James Conners (Justin Ament). The opening segment of the movie shows the relationships between Conners with his best friend, Johny Cooper (the older version portrayed by Shawn Reaves), his sweetheart Mary Cooper (older version portrayed by Marnie Alton), and his father, Thomas Conners (William Sadler). Thomas is the pastor of the small church in the town. The church building is one that he has built by his hand from the bottom up. On a summer day he is putting the finishing coats of white paint on the steeple when he is approached by Will Tunney (Angus MacFayden). Tunney is a local drunk and lowlife. However, Tunney informs Rev. Conners that last night in a game of cards he won the deed for the land the church sits on. He gives the Reverend two days to pay off the money he still owes on the deed otherwise he is evicting him. The Reverend is dismayed and Tunney shoots the man in cold blood. However, there are no witnesses to the crime and when the sheriff arrives two traveling lowlifes claim they saw the Reverend preparing to throw a hammer at Tunney. Thomas last words to James are that he forgives those who wrong him. With that, James is left an orphan and leaves behind his town and sets out for family who live in the South.
Fifteen years pass by. The Civil War has come and gone and now Tunney is a respected businessman and mayor of the town. Through murder, extortion, and other unsavory means he owns all of the land in town. When James returns home to seek out his long-lost love, Mary, he also plans on seeking revenge on Tunney. But Mary and Thomas Conner's words of forgiveness weight heavy upon James and leave him conflicted. What will he do, what will he do?
Angus MacFayden gives a wonderful performance as Will Tunney. He steals every scene he is in. Most of the other cast give decent performances, though there are some moments of blandness. That's about the only redeeming features about SHADOWHEART. The rest is a hodge-podge mix-match mess.
Let's start off with what SHADOWHEART portends to be. The DVD cover states that the movie is an exciting Western about a man who returns to his hometown to seek revenge for his father's murder only to, "discover a Native American world where justice has no name and vengeance rides in the shadows." Well, there are only two Indians in most of the movie and neither one of them seems to be part of the world in which they are living. In fact, they are escapees from group of natives being moved to a reservation. When we first meet them they appear more like a line of slaves being brought to market instead of the actual groups of people that were forced to move to reservations.
Most of the dialog is quite silly and melodramatic. The actors do what they can with it, but there's only so much you can do when given pressed ham and cheese to work with.
The story is all over the map. You think the overall story is going to be about James coming home to seek his revenge, but finding redemption instead. Well, he does, but then the bad guys escape and instead of redemption, James is left wanting revenge again. Bad guys appear out of nowhere, none the more apparent than a character called Spider who seems only to exist as a deux ex a machine for the bad guys and to give the director an opportunity to act in the movie. Railroad men, who were some of the most ruthless and consistent figures in history, alter their plans for a railroad at the request of a small town land baron whom they will never see again.
Oh, and then there's the whole them of SHADOWHEART. Is it about revenge or redemption? Well, the two are kind of related, but they are distinct things. The movie confuses the two all the time and ends with a message that you can get redemption through revenge even if it goes against everything else in the movie. James father, his girl Mary, and even the Indian woman he meets all tell him that he won't see his loved ones again if his heart if full of shadow that is tinted with bloodlust. Yet, that's exactly what he does and in the end everything turns out alright. It just doesn't fit.
I realize that my taste in movies are different from my parents. They were lovers of Westerns. So, I keep asking myself what my Dad and Mom would think of SHADOWHEART. I think they would say, "It's okay," and that would be it. That's about the highest praise this movie should receive because beyond the acting, particularly Angus MacFayden's performance, SHADOWHEART should be a movie better left in the shadows.
It seems like most movies are non-stop action or so boring you may fall asleep. Shadowheart falls nicely in the middle ground. Aside from the nice pace of development, Shadowheart lacked any "sizzle". The acting was unremarkable. The scenery was unremarkable. The plot was depressing. There really isn't much to say about this movie. The villain is totally disgusting and so you definitely want to see the hero get revenge or justice, but the ending is really … more
As a boy, he saw his preacher father murdered. As a soldier, he witnessed the horrors of the Civil War. Now bounty hunter James Conners (Justin Ament) has returned to the town of Legend, New Mexico to marry the beautiful girl (Marnie Alton) he left behind and capture the psychotic land baron (Angus Macfadyen) who destroyed his childhood. But when Conners is ambushed and left for dead, he discovers a Native American world where justice has no name and vengeance rides in the shadows. Daniel Baldwin, Michael Spears (DANCES WITH WOLVES), Tonantzin Carmelo (INTO THE WEST) and William Sadler co-star in this epic western about revenge, redemption and the man the Navajo called SHADOWHEART.