More noise than signal

The Sunchaser

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

In Cimino’s final full length feature, The Sunchaser, Woody Harrelson plays Dr. Michael Reynolds, a successful oncologist who seems to be on track for a promotion which will no doubt help with the repayments on his flash car. This future is derailed when a juvenile prisoner, Jon Seda’s Brandon ‘Blue’ Monroe is brought in to see him.

Discovering that he has mere weeks to live, Blue stages a breakout and takes Reynolds hostage, starting out on a trip across country to the lands of his Navajo ancestors with the whacked out notion of salvation at the top of a mountain, and a lake that a book promises will cure him better than any of the chemotherapy garbage.

Reynolds is forced to go along with this, but over the course of the trip the two bond and when Blue’s condition worsens, Reynolds breaks the law himself to help Blue reach his goal. The reasons for their bonding or for a medical professional to go along with this magical claptrap remain unexamined by the film.

Narratively this is again quite stripped back, and I get the impression that this is supposed to be overflowing with character, but Jon Seda is not up to the task, and while external evidence would make you think Harrelson would be able to cut this mustard – this was the same year he appeared in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, he does not. There is no mustard cut at all during the production of this film. All mustard remained entirely intact and roundly uncut.

Falling somewhere, awkwardly, between a road trip, hostage drama, mysticism and buddy flick, the plot does not convince in the slightest, and the characters are difficult if not impossible to warm to. The whole endeavour seems roundly amateurish, with only a few of Cimino’s beautiful nature shots towards the end of the film giving you any indication that this is a film from an Oscar winning director and not some made for TV, Hallmark channel production line schedule filler.

If Heaven’s Gate could be characterised by how interesting a film it is to think about on pretty much every level, it’s sad that Cimino’s later career and Sunchaser in particular give us so little to talk about. There’s not even a gloriously failed execution of a grand idea. This is a small film, with small ideas, and doesn’t do even those justice. According to Box Office Mojo, this film’s domestic total gross was under $22,000, sneaking out for one week in 23 cinemas. Going out with a barely heard whimper than a bang, it doesn’t seem exactly fitting given the heights Cimino reached, or strived to reach. But it’s hard to argue that Sunchaser deserves anything other than to be roundly ignored.