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Heaven's Gate (1980)

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A dramatization of the real-life Johnson County War in 1890 Wyoming, in which a Sheriff born into wealth, attempts to protect immigrant farmers from rich cattle interests.

Director:

Michael Cimino

Writer:

Michael Cimino
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Popularity
2,721 ( 461)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Kris Kristofferson ... James Averill
Christopher Walken ... Nathan D. Champion (as Chris Walken)
John Hurt ... William C. Irvine
Sam Waterston ... Frank Canton
Brad Dourif ... Mr. Eggleston
Isabelle Huppert ... Ella Watson
Joseph Cotten ... The Reverend Doctor
Jeff Bridges ... John H. Bridges
Ronnie Hawkins ... Maj. Wolcott
Paul Koslo ... Mayor Charlie Lezak
Geoffrey Lewis ... Trapper Fred
Richard Masur ... Cully
Rosie Vela Rosie Vela ... Beautiful Girl (as Roseanne Vela)
Mary Catherine Wright Mary Catherine Wright ... Nell (as Mary C. Wright)
Nicholas Woodeson ... Small Man
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Storyline

Wyoming, 1890. James Averill is the Sherriff of Johnson County, a county largely inhabited by foreign immigrants. The wealthy cattle owners view the immigrant farmers as a nuisance and hindrance to them enlarging their own land. The cattlemen's association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, effectively declares war on the immigrant farmers, and gets the state government's blessing. They assemble an army of guns-for-hire, and, backed by the U.S. Cavalry, set out to rid the state of the immigrants. James Averill's heart is with the immigrants, but he is not sure they have a chance of winning the inevitable war. Written by grantss

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

The only thing greater than their passion for America...was their passion for each other. See more »


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Russian | French | Polish | German

Release Date:

19 November 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate See more »

Filming Locations:

Butte, Montana, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$44,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$12,032, 19 November 1980, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$3,484,331, 31 December 1981
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Partisan Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (1981 re-cut) | (2012 director's recut)

Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo (35 mm prints)| 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The 1870 Harvard Commencement is depicted in the opening scene. This class included Richard Theodore Greener, the first African-American to graduate from Harvard, and later Dean of Harvard Law School. See more »

Goofs

Despite how he was portrayed in the film, Nate Champion was never any type of enforcer. He was a small rancher who stood up against the tactic of claiming all unbranded cattle. He was killed when a posse of vigilantes attacked his homestead. A journal of his battle survived the attack. See more »

Quotes

Frank Canton: Mr. Champion, my grandfather was the Secretary of War to Harrison. His brother was the governor of the state of New York. My brother-in-law is Secretary of State. And to you, I represent the full authority of the government of the United States and the President.
Nathan D. Champion: Fuck him too.
Billy Irvine: Bravo, sir!
See more »

Alternate Versions

All UK versions are cut by 1 min 14 secs to remove all scenes of cockfighting as well as editing footage of cruel horse-falls. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Remington Steele: Stronger Than Steele (1985) See more »

Soundtracks

"Mamou Two-Step'
Written by Doug Kershaw
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Lost Greatness
25 September 2004 | by waheSee all my reviews

'Heaven's Gate' is not a masterpiece, which apparently was what it needed to be upon first release to justify its great cost, and, more importantly, the continued uneasy reliance of Hollywood on the Auteur model of film-making. Yet 'Heaven's Gate', seen today at last on DVD in a cut of 229 minutes, is a superb film. It is a touch lethargic in pace. But at least it is paced. Quite apart from the incompetence of construction that marks many films today, there have been many films which, deliberate in form, have been severely damaged by being hacked down with no care for rhythm so the films become shapeless and confusing. Beyond this, the criticisms leveled at the film have become in retrospect quite lame. If the good guys and bad guys are too obviously pronounced for a serious film, and yes Sam Waterston's mustachioed, fur-clad villain is comic-opera (and not in the multi-leveled manner of Bill The Butcher from 'Gangs of New York'), and yes, the townsfolk do seem a touch 'Fiddler On The Roof' on occasions, then a few dozen serious films made since then, including 'Titanic' and the graceless 'Cold Mountain' (which bears certain similarities and is a notable failure in convincing qualities compared to this film) can be castigated for exactly the same reason.

Also despite accusations, the film has a plot, quite a well-essayed plot at that. It simply does not bow to standard-form 'epic' quality, by providing Titan heroes, rafts of sub-plots and confusion. It experiments with telling in a manner more like much smaller, modest films, by carefully-caught moments of character interaction, and well-textured pageant-like explosions of communal action, as with the opening at Harvard and, most specially, the wonderful scene where the Johnson County folk, following the lead of a brilliantly physical fiddler, make celebration on roller-skates.

'The Deer Hunter' was a critical and commercial success but abandoned the first half's inspired, mosaic-like accumulation of detail, and I think in a manner similar to criticism of Robert Penn Warren's novel 'All The King's Men' and its dictionary of Jacobean stunts, if Cimino had not had such a strong grasp of the conventions of Hollywood epics, he might have made a special rare work of art based in honest visualisation of people within their milieu. In contrast, 'Heaven's Gate' succeeds in screwing its narrative momentum and tension upwards in a slowly expanding arc, until the finale explodes, whilst not abandoning the mosaic approach.

The central romantic triangle, for instance, resists standard inflections; a decent, intelligent, but psychically defeated man, James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) competes with a hot-shot but identity-challenged young gunman Nate Champion (Christopher Walken) for the hand of a young Madame, Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert); there is no self-conscious bed-hopping, no slaps in the face, recriminations, or typical sad-sack moments, but more a sad and distanced decision by Ella to choose the younger man whom she loves less because he is ready to make the commitment. Ella emerges as the film's true hero (Huppert's performance, though initially awkward, is really quite excellent, balancing a dewy emotionalism with a hard-hammered spirit), attempting first to rescue Nate and then mustering the resistance party of immigrants into an enterprising defence. Subsequently, Averill is stung into action as friends die. Indeed, in the process of overcoming so many traps of cliché and style, 'Heaven's Gate' successfully and willfully throws off the defeated outsider-heroes grace note of so many '70s Westerns and portrays an eventual, vigorous, cheer-the-heroes rallying to a compromised but still relished victory.

The social conflict of so many '70s Westerns at last hardens into a fully-fledged war; where capital attempts a crushing final victory over the miscreants who stand in their way, suddenly they find a massed and more-powerful people's army, led by the man who played the thoroughly-destroyed Billy the Kid a decade before. This is what led the film to be described as the first Marxist Western, but really it simply deflowers a theme of the genre extant well before the '60s. Such various and classic old-school works as William Wyler's 'The Westerner', and even 'Shane', tell awfully similar stories. It is simply here that the romantic myth of the gunslinger has been replaced by the romantic myth of the people's revolt. In a spectacular, exiting, but realistic and thus chaotic finale, the marauding Cattlemen's encampment is attacked, ringed by dust clouds punctuated by fallen horses, writhing bodies, and gunfire. Averill puts his classical education to work finally by stealing a Roman trick and bringing the Cattlemen to the brink of annihilation before they are rescued by the Cavalry (another distinctly seditious touch, but surely not so offensive after 'Little Big Man's unrelenting depiction of Native American massacres). Really, it's hard to think of a more heroically American vision of grassroots resistance. The film's only real dead spot stands as an unnecessary coda indicating Averill's eventual relapse, a rather potted piece of tragedy.

Despite then certain failings and a slow mid-section, 'Heaven's Gate' is a supreme piece of work, a genuine attempt to create a contemporary Western and a new kind of epic. If one has to still join the chorus that reckons Cimino was absurd in his behaviour on set and expenditure, it is regretfully. When, today, flops like 'The Adventures of Pluto Nash' and 'K-19 - The Widowmaker' see nearly a hundred million dollars sink down the drain, and yet a tag of infamy still hangs on this film, one ponders what exactly its grim death signified. The attempt at original style, the bawdy sexuality, the very hard-won sense of detail, the breathtaking rigor of the film-making and what is being filmed, all throw into contrast what is sorely lacking in so much contemporary Hollywood product.


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