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Customer Review

on 17 January 2014
I find it difficult to take seriously the growing body of opinion that Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate is some sort of underrated masterpiece. I've seen the film twice. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a massively overlong, pompous mess, consisting of little more than a lot of speciously pretty cinematography decked out to distract attention from a flimsy and pointless story. The main actor, Kris Kristofferson, is an inert hulk of a man - I'm prepared to believe that he is or was a decent singer-songwriter, if you like that kind of thing, but he can't act - and scores of fine character actors are wasted in minor roles. Literally wasted, in that basically all of the main characters except one - spoiler alert! - don't survive until the end of the movie. Nor are their deaths meaningful; basically, this movie is what the TV Tropes website calls a Shoot the Shaggy Dog Story, extended to vast length and with very little result. That, at any rate, was my opinion when I first saw the film.

Some time after seeing it, I read Steven Bach's book Final Cut, which details how the Heaven's Gate shoot was allowed to run wildly out of control because the studio placed too much faith in a director whose ego was far bigger than his talent. Michael Cimino behaved as though the purpose of a Hollywood movie was to be High Art. The purpose of a Hollywood movie, at any rate when he made this one, was to make money for the studio, and this one failed so badly to do that, that it killed the studio. If this sounds excessively cynical, bear in mind that directors as different as Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Steven Spielberg and Francis Coppola made movies that were far superior as art than anything Cimino ever made, but which were also major commercial successes. Heaven's Gate is boring, humourless and without entertainment value, but the pretty visuals, the evidently huge amounts of money poured into the bottomless pit of its production, and the film's general air of complacent, elegiac soulfulness still fool some people into thinking that surely it must also be a good movie.

Some time after I read Bach's book I made myself watch Heaven's Gate again, just to see if I was wrong the first time round. I managed to make it to the end, and then I had to stay up another couple of hours watching a Cary Grant movie just to wash this piece of garbage out of my brain.
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