We’re only one week into 2016 and we’ve already got another western featuring Walton Goggins – too bad it can’t compete with Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight though. Instead, we start the year with a slowly stumbling prairie piece dubbed Diablo, starring Scott Eastwood.
Built on scenic views and a long, arduous road, it’s not a particularly well-paced endeavor. Goggins pops in for a few tussles, while Adam Beach and Danny Glover do the same, but larger psychological thrills are lost in an 80-minute movie that feels doubly as long. Lawrence Roeck’s adventure is all about coming fact-to-face with the Devil, yet Diablo‘s own struggles with glaring inner demons causes its own muddled downfall without any dark forces intervening.
Eastwood stars as a distraught cowboy named Jackson, whose wife, Alexsandra (Camilla Belle), is abducted by Mexicans during a fiery night raid. Jackson leaves his home and heads into the wilderness, tracking his wife’s captors so he can stage a rescue attempt. Along the way he encounters a few hiccups, one being a murderer named Ezra (Walton Goggins), as his quest becomes more dangerous by the day. Intense weather, wild natives, and lawless bastards stand in the way of Jackson’s heroics, but he hopes that love can overcome the West’s perilous hurdles. That, or he’ll die trying.
If that description sounds horridly generic, you’re quite right. Diablo arrives hot on the heels of other more heralded Westerns like The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and even The Revenant (thematically), all of which manipulate tropes with more grace than this dusty, sprawling chase.
Much of Roeck’s film relies on fleeting, open-range scenery shots of snowy fields and grassy plains, all of which capture rocky mountains in the background – you know, the usual Western cues. But Jackson’s travels rely very heavily on atmosphere, as drawn out wandering scenes overtake a screenplay that’s loosely riddled with a few exciting moments. Eastwood’s no DiCaprio, nor is his character interesting enough to carry tension just by glaring at nature’s beauty – not a knock on talent, but we need more stimulation than the look of a middle-school diorama whenever the camera valiantly pans out (far too often).
As for the story of Diablo, Eastwood portrays the same steely-eyed gunslinger who has traversed bumpy trails since rattlesnakes were poisonous. Of course, like any good thriller, there’s more to Jackson’s motivations than Roeck initially lets on, including visions of a dead, hole-headed brother. There’s an air of uncertainty as Jackson is received with mixed emotions by Indians and settlers alike, but the film’s reveal is rather lackluster considering how it should strike like a hot iron.
Jackson is just too simple-minded. Psychological terrors are supposed to kick in, but they only cheapen a more rowdy mission that’s deemed irrelevant upon a middling twist. Everything feels jaggedly forced together, from an eagle-eye focus on cinematography to the film’s descent into madness.
It’s not that Scott Eastwood disappoints, it’s more that his character is either hopelessly in need of assistance, or acting in an almost brainwashed manner. He presses on with only two speeds, and very rarely does he get to emote any true personality. This works for Goggins, who only needs to worry about being a vile miscreant, but we’re constantly trying to figure Jackson out while he searches for his missing wife. Mystery doesn’t aid in suspense, but instead distracts from Eastwood’s blank representation of Roeck’s outdoorsy “hero.” Leather, saddles, and wide-brimmed hats – the allure of Jackson, and every other cowboy in the West.
Diablo meanders down a familiar path, only to try and pull a deceptive one-eighty come a game-changing finale. It’s not that we feel mislead or duped, but instead let down by a plot device that yearns to leave jaws agape. For me, the trick only works to unwind an already loosely-wound ball of thread that represents a husband’s attempt to make things right.
It’s the kind of film that conceals far too many details in an attempt to manipulate red herrings into unbelievable truths, and gets lost in hiding a captivating story along the way. In a time where pioneers were both good men and outlaws, Diablo hopes to blur the lines to even more extremes – but settles on Western generics and an ending that jumps the wagon.
Diablo is an under-90-minute movie that feels doubly long, bringing you face-to-face with the Devil, but taking its sweet time to get there (unfortunately).