Outlaws and Angels

Outlaws & Angels is the kind of Western Quentin Tarantino would love. It’s gleefully, bloodily violent. It revels in profanity and shocking, aberrant sexuality. It quotes scripture liberally and without a nuanced appreciation of what the scriptures mean.

Outlaws & Angels is also steeped in cinematic conventions from the 1970s. Shot in grainy, 35mm and racked with shaky zooms that both narrow and widen the film’s perspective, the movie feels rebellious and loose. It’s a movie “for the hell of it,” and it thrills to drag its audience neck deep into the hell.

Outlaws & Angels is about a trio of bank robbing outlaws (one of whom is played by Chad Michael Murray) on the run who hole-up overnight in a frontier family’s house (one of whom is played by Teri Polo; another is played by Francesca Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s daughter). Their presence brings to the surface despicable things the family members are trying to keep hidden. Shots fire. Blood flows. Everything changes.

The bank robbers are being chased by a pair of bounty hunters (one of whom is played by Luke Wilson). These scenes are narrated by Luke Wilson’s character as he contemplates his life. This reflective narration is kind of cheesy. I think that’s the point, especially considering what happens to his character. This adds to the 70s nihilistic feel as well.

Francesca Eastwood and Chad Michael Murray make a great pair in this film. Their chemistry carries the movie, and Eastwood’s performance in particular gives this otherwise glib movie emotional depth. The things her character experiences would shake anyone to their core. Eastwood embodies that soul-shaking well.

I’ve told you a lot about the movie, but I haven’t said whether or not I like it. Seeing it (as part of Sundance’s Midnight program) was certainly a unique experience. It made me feel grimy, like my feet were going to stick the floor of the theater when I got up to leave when it was over. The film is thrilled by the physical and sexual violence is depicts. That’s hard for me to stomach. But that also means the film is effective. I admire the filmmaking even as I mourn the enjoyment the film takes at dispatching its villains.