Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Directed by Michael Cimino and written by Charles Leavitt, The Sunchaser is the story of a 16-year old juvenile delinquent, who is suffering from abdominal cancer as he kidnaps a rich doctor and takes him to the Navajo region in the hopes to cure him. The film is an exploration into a man dealing with his lifestyle as he struggles with the role he plays in helping this young man. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jon Seda, Talisa Soto, Alexandra Tydings, and Anne Bancroft. The Sunchaser is a visually-striking but messy film from Michael Cimino.
The film revolves two different men at different points in their life where they go into a journey to the Navajo Nation in the American Southwest. During this journey, a self-absorbed doctor and an angry 16-year old criminal go through changes in the journey as the former is taken hostage by the latter who believes that there’s a sacred mountain that can cure him of the abdominal cancer he’s suffering from as he has very little time to live. While the film does have some very interesting insight into the world of the Navajo and what this young half-Navajo man believes as he takes this rich doctor to the Navajo world. It’s a film that has an interesting concept but doesn’t really do enough to flesh out the characters nor bring any weight to what is at stake.
Charles Leavitt’s script does create some moments in the lead characters in Dr. Michael Reynolds (Woody Harrelson) and Brandon “Blue” Monroe (Jon Seda) where the two eventually bond. The way their relationship starts off from antagonistic to more friendly isn’t as developed where Dr. Reynolds is often more concerned with his reputation as he’s about to get a prestigious job offer so he can buy his wife their dream home. Yet, he would eventually care for Blue despite Blue’s constant threats and antagonism as he also carries a gun. In the course of the narrative as the two become more friendly with one another, Dr. Reynolds reveals into why he’s been so hesitant to be very helpful as it relates to a traumatic experience he had as a kid as Blue would remind him of his brother. The way some of the narrative and character development shift does have some earnest moments but it often feels too rushed or to clumsily scripted.
The direction of Michael Cimino has a lot of the attributes that he’s known in terms of vast visuals with the way he shoots the American Southwest in its canyons, mountains, and deserts. Many of which are just powerful yet he isn’t able to get the story to be more engaging as some of the drama that occurs gets repetitive at times in the way Dr. Reynolds and Blue often spar over their differences. Some of it would feel awkward such as a pivotal scene where Blue tells Dr. Reynolds the story of the Sunchaser while holding a gun to his head as Dr. Reynolds would have these flashbacks about his traumatic moment with his brother. It’s a scene that showcased some of the messiness of the film as there’s scenes where Cimino tries to inject some humor and drama as the latter show scenes of Dr. Reynolds’ wife waiting for word on her husband.
While Cimino is much more free in shooting in the deserts and mountains, it is clear that he wants to infuse a lot of mysticism as it concerns the world of the Navajo. Yet, he is unable to balance that with the drama where he wants to do so much with the story and make it feel personal and important. Even in its third act where the two men reach their destination as the mixture of beautiful imagery and mythology seems to play this idea of Americana that Cimino felt was lost. Yet, it’s a moment in the film that showcases not just what Cimino wasn’t able to do make the story feel whole but also in the fact that it’s a film that struggles with its identity in what it wants to be. Overall, Cimino creates an uneven film that isn’t sure what it wanted to say about two men going into a mystical journey.
Cinematographer Douglas Milsome does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the look of some of the interiors such as the bar Dr. Reynolds and Blue stop at to many of the beautiful images of the canyons and mountains they encounter. Editor Joe d’Augustine does nice work with the editing from the usage of stylish cuts as well as the flashback montages and rhythmic cutting for the action. Production designer Victoria Paul, with art directors Lee Mayman and Edward L. Rubin and set decorator Jackie Carr, does terrific work with the look of the bars and hospitals Dr. Reynolds and Blue go into as well as the posh home of Dr. Reynolds.
Costume designer Christine Peters does some fine work with the costumes from the street clothes of Blue to the look of the Navajo people he and Dr. Reynolds encounter. Sound designer Brian Best does superb work with the sound from the layers of sounds in the way helicopters and highway patrol officers try to find the two men as well as some of stuff that occurs in some of the film‘s locations. The film’s music by Maurice Jarre is good for some of the serene orchestral moments yet some of its bombast tends to drown out some of the drama as some of the placement of the music doesn’t work while the soundtrack includes some hip-hop, R&B, rock, and gospel.
The casting by Terry Liebing is wonderful for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable appearances from Andrea Roth as a head nurse, Carmen Dell’Orefice as Dr. Reynolds’ mother, Brooke Ashley as his young daughter, Christopher Kennedy Masterson as his brother in the flashback, John Christian Graas as the young Dr. Reynolds, Victor Aaron as the mysterious medicine man Webster Skyhorse, and Talisa Soto as his granddaughter. Alexandra Tydings is pretty good as Dr. Reynolds’ wife Victoria while Matt Mulhern is alright as Dr. Reynolds’ colleague who often has him wanting to advance his career. Anne Bancroft is fantastic as the eccentric Dr. Renata Baumbauer as a free-spirited woman Dr. Reynolds and Blue meets as she would convey a lot of strange ideas that would frustrate the former and amaze the latter.
Jon Seda is superb as Blue despite the fact that he was too old to play a 16-year old yet he manages to convey the sense of anger and determination of a dying young man who believes in this mystical mountain that he wants to go to. Finally, there’s Woody Harrelson in an excellent performance as Dr. Michael Reynolds as a man who is kidnapped by Blue as he comes to term with his own loss as well as the position he’s in as he tries to help Blue and also regain the courage and care that he has as a doctor and as a man.
The Sunchaser is a very troubled and disappointing film from Michael Cimino. Despite some majestic scenes and the performances of Woody Harrelson and Jon Seda, it’s a film that falls very short due to its script and inconsistency with what it wanted to be. In the end, The Sunchaser is a lukewarm and underwhelming film from Michael Cimino.
Michael Cimino Films: Thunderbolt & Lightfoot - The Deer Hunter - Heaven‘s Gate - Year of the Dragon - The Sicilian - Desperate Hours (1990 film) - To Each His Own Cinema-No Translation Needed - The Auteurs #35: Michael Cimino
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