The western has had a rough journey over the last few years. The rocky terrain has seen highs like True Grit, Hatfield’s & McCoys and lows such as the execrable Jonah Hex. Sweet Vengeance (also known as Sweet Water) appears to have a strong pedigree, with a cast that includes Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs and January Jones; however it just doesn’t come together.
Sweet Vengeance sees Jones and Eduardo Noriega as Sarah and Miguel, a loving couple living the (admittedly hard) American Dream in New Mexico. However, they collide with Isaac’s Prophet Josiah, a crazed holy man who is prone to random acts of violence. Miguel is murdered by Josiah, prompting Sarah to go on a trail of (sweet) vengeance. Along the way, Ed Harris’ wacky Sheriff picks up the scent, leading to the obligatory showdown.
The film features a story that has been told many times before and it can never quite rise above its many clichés. It’s easy to see that writers Andrew McKenzie, Logan and Noah Miller have seen their fair share of westerns, but they don’t bring anything new to the genre. As a director, Logan Miller doesn’t know how to frame a shot and one of Sweet Vengeance’s major crimes is that it looks boring. It’s visually flat.
The high point of Sweet Vengeance comes from the performances of Ed Harris and Jason Isaacs. Both appear to relish their over the top roles. Isaacs has done this thing before; but it’s a pleasure to watch Harris let loose his inhibitions on screen. Which brings us to January Jones. It has always been difficult to say whether Jones is a good actress or not. Mad Men sees her play a rather stoic and repressed character, while her big screen turns in films such as Unknown and X-Men: First Class have been underwritten. Sweet Vengeance is her turn to shine and show what she’s capable of – and unfortunately she’s not capable of a lot. Her character has quite a wide-reaching arc, but as an actress Jones just doesn’t have the tools to achieve this. She simply goes from western wife to widowed western wife, with a gun.
On paper Sweet Vengeance looks like a winner , but it’s a bland entry into the western genre. However, it might just be worth watching for Jason Isaac and Ed Harris’ exuberant performances. At the very least, in answers to the long asked question: is January Jones a good actress? The answer: no.