Diablo (2015) / Western-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence and brief language
Running Time: 83 min.

Cast: Scott Eastwood, Walton Goggins, Danny Glover, Adam Beach, Camilla Belle, Samuel Marty
Small role: Tzi Ma, Joaquim de Almeida
Director: Lawrence Roeck

Screenplay: Carlos De Los Rios, Lawrence Roeck
Review published January 10, 2016

Scott Eastwood (Fury, Trouble with the Curve), son of Clint, echoes the look of his father so much that one wonders if he'll be able to get cast in roles from filmmakers who aren't trying to cast a Clint Eastwood type.  He does himself no favors by essentially playing his father's on-screen persona in Diablo, which is a respectable entry in the Western genre that has a couple of nifty ideas, but not enough to overcome its drawn-out narrative and Clint-without-presence leading man. 

If you're a fan of Clint like I am, you'll spend a good deal of the movie hoping that Scott will reach down deep inside him and pull forth that striking heroic charisma of his father, similar to how O'Shea Jackson Jr. captured Ice Cube so well in Straight Outta Compton, and while there is a brief moment here and there of that Man-with No-Name standing there on the screen yet again, there's a vacantness on Scott's face in moment's when Clint would have looked righteously pissed off.  That edginess, or whatever you call that "thing" Eastwood brought so well to big-screen Westerns -- a mean streak, maybe? -- just isn't in Scott, who still retains his father's handsomeness and likeability well enough to think he could work in the right role. In Diablo, he's just a Clint Eastwood lookalike.

Eastwood stars as Jackson, a troubled Civil War veteran on the look out to save his wife Alexsandra (Belle, Push) from the trio of Mexican bandits who've taken her away.  Along the long and dusty trail south to find her, Jackson encounters a variety of dangerous men, most notably in a shady, murderous desperado named Ezra (Goggins, The Hateful Eight), who seems to exist to torment Jackson for encroaching on his turf.  Jackson tries to catch up to his Alexsandra's abductors while trying to stay ahead of Ezra and other dangerous men, but his biggest obstacle on his quest seems to come from the dark memories of his past experiences in the war.

Carmel-by-the-sea resident Lawrence Roeck directs Eastwood for the second time, with the first coming in his debut, 2012's The Forger, which also featured the acting of Dina Eastwood, Clint's wife at the time.  He's crafted a good-looking Western here, with some interesting use of drones to capture some unique mountain and forest angles that break up the more traditional shots of riding across wooded plains.  Given that the cinematographer is Dean Cundey, the veteran who shot such well-known films as Jurassic Park, the Back to the Future series, and just about every early John Carpenter work from Halloween to Big Trouble in Little China, I'd say the visuals are the biggest asset to the entire production, shot mainly in wilderness of Alberta, Canada.

Roeck's also rousted up a pretty good cast here, largely thanks to the work from casting director Roger Mussenden, who is most famous for pulling together the talent for the X-Men series of films.  Scott Eastwood is perhaps the weakest link, but I don't blame Roeck for trying, as he does have the right look, and his presence does allow for some context to the genre in evoking his father's image.  Walton Goggins and Danny Glover (Beyond the Lights) are quite good in their roles, but they're not in the film enough to spark up momentum.  Known actors like Tzi Ma (Million Dollar Arm) and Joaquim de Almeida (Fast Five) are curiously cast in tiny roles that could easily have gone to complete nobodies.

Essentially, Diablo becomes more an extension of Western mythology that Clint played with in such classics as High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider, which puts the cowboy in the role of either shadowy redeemer or dark avenger, with the Old West seen as some sort of plane that exists between Earth and Hell.  It's not entirely a straightforward Western tale; there are a couple of interesting reveals in the narrative that change our perspective on what's going on in the bigger picture, psychologically.  However, either those reveals are clumsily handled or we're just not invested enough in the characters to care either way, as they're interesting in theory, but they curiously lack dramatic impact.

Within a few months of release of superior Westerns like The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, and Bone Tomahawk, a less complex and relatively uneventful one like Diablo pales significantly by comparison.  Given that Eastwood's presence is already prompting our reminiscences of his classic Westerns, some of which are considered masterpieces, that's already too many comparisons for Diablo to withstand. Perhaps with a bit more grit by director/co-writer Roeck, giving the film an atmospherically surreal style of High Plains Drifter, we'd have a more interesting and challenging movie.  Or, perhaps if we had Clint, both in front of the camera, and behind it.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo