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Heaven's Gate (1980)

6.7
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 7,845 users  
Reviews: 172 user | 93 critic

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.

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Title: Heaven's Gate (1980)

Heaven's Gate (1980) on IMDb 6.7/10

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Nathan D. Champion (as Chris Walken)
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John L. Bridges
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Major Wolcott
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Mayor Charlie Lezak
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Trapper Fred
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Cully
Rosie Vela ...
Beautiful girl (as Roseanne Vela)
Mary Catherine Wright ...
Nell (as Mary C. Wright)
...
Small man
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Storyline

Michael Cimino's bleak anti-western based on events in 1890s Wyoming. Sheriff James Averill attempts to protect immigrant farmers from wealthy cattle interests, and also clashes with a hired gun, Nathan Champion, over the woman they both love, Ella Watson. Both men find themselves questioning their roles in the furious conflict between wealthy landowners and European immigrants attempting to build new lives on the American frontier, which culminates in a brutal pitched battle. Written by Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

What one loves about life are the things that fade. See more »


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

| | | |

Release Date:

19 November 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate  »

Box Office

Budget:

$44,000,000 (estimated)

Gross:

$1,500,000 (USA)
 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(re-cut) | (original cut) | (2012 director's cut)

Sound Mix:

(35 mm prints)| (70 mm prints)

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

At one point, the head of United Artists along with fellow executives proposed selling the movie to producer Barry Spikings in order to rid themselves of the financial burden and also allow Michael Cimino to finish the film any way he liked, as long as it was not under the banner and scrutiny of United Artists. Under the proposed deal, Cimino would have complete control of the finished product with Spikings overseeing everything. United Artists would have looked after the distribution rights for the film in the U.S. and abroad. After looking at all the financial records for the film at that point which had reached approximately $15 million, Spikings instantly refused to take over the project. See more »

Goofs

Despite music and a yard full of waltzing couples, several 360-degree panning shots at the Harvard commencement ball show that there is no orchestra. See more »

Quotes

Billy Irvine: James, do you remember the good gone days?
James Averill: Clearer and better, every day I get older.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Animaniacs: Video Review/When Mice Ruled the Earth (1993) See more »

Soundtracks

The Battle Hymn of the Republic
(uncredited)
Music by William Steffe
Played by the marching band
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
As the good book says, many are called but few are chosen... and most are damned.
21 January 2007 | by (Brisbane, Australia) – See 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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