Other than a musical performance of The Blue Danube by some townfolks at one point, there is little sugar in the western town they call Sweetwater. There is, however, unfettered corruption in all positions of authority. The bank, bears the ironic moniker of Hugh’s Integrity and Trust, but Hugh (the always excellent Stephen Root) takes great delight in the act of all but robbing his customers. The current sheriff is a lazy and incompetent blowhard and the local brothel madame (Amy Madigan)sold her own daughter into the prostitute trade without a second thought about it. The general store’s proprietor has a Porky’s style peephole for watching the few ladies in town strip down to their underwear when trying on the fancy dresses he retails. All are under the iron fist of Josiah, the preacher and literal shepherd who runs the biggest Ranch in the valley, called Holy Land (a western counterpart to Django Unchained’s Candi Land.) Josiah is tightly wound, spiritually crazy and exudes 24 karat hypocrisy through every pore of his alabaster skin. Jason Isaacs, here plays one of those great mustache twirling madmen who at one point crucifies someone on an upside down cross. Sweetwater is that kind of movie.
Saddling up a near A-list cast of character actors heaping on gobs of production-value, in the parlance of our times, Sweetwater is a western trashterpiece. The film might be an acquired taste, but for those who might detect its tannins and notes of ironic humour and wordplay in the story, there are many, many delights. In rapid succession we are introduced to a bearded Mormon-Prophet Josiah and his particular brand of apocalyptic preaching, the playfully competent prancing hired lawman, Jackson (Ed Harris – whose manner and wardrobe seem to be channeling Doctor Who), and the straight-backed frontierswoman, Sarah (January Jones) frolicking with her Mexican husband, Miguel (Eduardo Noriega) on their dusty ranch property in the dusky evening. We will watch all of these actors chew scenery in their own fashion over the course of the next 100 minutes. They will make elaborate speeches, offer flinty glares, and dwell a bit in their idiosyncrasies before the obligatory climax in which everyone will shoot at each other. But O Brother! What scenery will be chewed before we get there.