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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
2,360 ( 1,648)
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:

What one loves about life are the things that fade. 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

Reportedly, Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond once said that the key personnel who worked on this movie had thought prior to release, that they had made a good movie. Zsgimond has said he was depressed for about a year, due to this movie's massive drubbing by critics, and enormous failure at the box-office. See more »

Goofs

Unlike their fates in the movie, Jim Averell and Ella Watson (actually husband and wife), were lynched in July of 1889. 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

Writer-director Michael Cimino was coaxed to revisit his film for a 2012 video release via The Criterion Collection and supervised a 2K transfer from the YCM separation negatives from which he noticeably changed the original look of the film from a subdued sepia to a more rich "Technicolor" appearance. He also made a number of revisions, including the removal of the intermission thus creating a straight cut, reversed a "pull out" shot to a "pull in" and made a number of other tweaks as well as a re-tweak of the soundtrack. See more »


Soundtracks

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

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User Reviews

 
As the good book says, many are called but few are chosen... and most are damned.
21 January 2007 | by RJBurke1942See all my reviews

I first saw this film when released in 1980. From other sources, I've learnt that the only release of the 219-minute cut was in New York City, after which it was severely cut to 149 minutes. So, I guess I saw the shorter version first which, at the time, I thought, was a very interesting anti-Western, if a trifle confusing...

So, it was with even more interest that I finally obtained a DVD of the full-length version. I'm glad I did because this second viewing has confirmed for me that the movie is a true classic, and the critical vitriol poured on Michael Cimino was unwarranted, to say the very least.

Yes, it's a long movie, but so have been many others. For example: Once upon a time in America (1984) at 227 minutes; Cleopatra (1963) at 320 minutes; The Ten Commandments (1956) at 220 minutes; Spartacus {restored version} (1960) at 198 minutes; Gone with the Wind (1939) at 222 minutes and others. So, it can't be the fact of running time that made so many froth at the mouth way back, when Heaven's Gate came on the scene.

But note this: all of those above movies have everything to do with reinforcing myths about history and heroes.

Not so Heaven's Gate: in this narrative, the American West is shown in all its grim and unrelenting harshness, injustice, and poverty. And that's probably the first reason why so many disliked this film: it laid out the circumstances of the Johnson County War of 1892 in Wyoming, showing how the Wyoming Stock Growers Association hired 50 assassins to hunt down and murder a large group of European immigrants accused of cattle rustling; and all with the assistance and conniving of authorities, right up to the President of the United States. For an essay on that war, with the background and what happened, there is a link at Wikipedia under Johnson County War.

Very few like to be reminded of the really dirty periods in their country's history, and which fly in the face of what the country is supposed to be. Had it been a documentary, it would have been barely palatable for most; as entertainment, it was almost bound to fail commercially and be torn to shreds by the shrill and infamous.

Leaving aside the socio-political diatribe, for a moment, that Cimino launched herein, what about the narrative – the story of the three main characters? Well, it probably wasn't unusual for men of that time to fall for a local prostitute, just as it's probably not unusual now. It's a fairly standard love triangle whereby Ella must choose between the two men, and ultimately decides upon the younger man, Nathan, who, although not above resorting to cold-blooded murder when it suits him, shows more spirit and commitment than the older James (or Jim, as most people in the film say). For some, that part of the story threads too slowly, perhaps; in the context of the wider narrative about the war, however, it is, I think, entirely appropriate.

And that war is depicted graphically, viciously and cruelly with scenes of carnage that are exquisitely staged and edited flawlessly – although in the final massacre between the Association and the immigrants, I'm certain that some scenes of wagons blowing apart are repeated. A minor point and perhaps brought about when the 219-minute cut was restored? Any way you look at it, though, it hits you in the face with the noise, dust, chaos and confusion of war...

Which brings me to another criticism by others: the noise and dust is such that it's often difficult to hear the dialog and even see clearly what is happening. I'll admit that I found that to be a trifle annoying at first, even backtracking to replay parts to try to catch the image or the words – until I realized that really wasn't necessary if you accept the director's intent: life is chaotic, it is difficult to hear and see in crowded situations and, in war, it's the sine qua non of this mise-en-scene. In short, it's as though you truly are present in and within the scenes...

And what of the title? From Shakespeare, it refers to a figurative nearness to God and so, if you equate God with the natural world, the stunning scenery that pervades the movie – and it is stunning, hauntingly equal to that of David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965) – is a useful metaphor. I tend to think, however, that Cimino had something more to say, namely the idea that the brave immigrants – the God-fearing salt of the earth – were denied entry to heaven on earth and the freedom to build a life for themselves in the land that espouses to be freedom's champion.

Was that Cimino's intent – to gut the myth of the American West? To show how, in America, only the rich get rich while the poor are massacred, one way or another, throughout history? Is that anything new? Not really, as we all know. Where it really hurt, however, is in showing how America was not and, by implication, is not the land of the free and the home of the brave. Instead, after absorbing this narrative, we are left with an impression that the underpinnings of America have more to do with a land of dispossessed slaves and a home for knaves...


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