South of Heaven, West of Hell (2000)

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Released 21-Mar-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 126:30 (Case: 108)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Dwight Yoakam
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Dwight Yoakam
Vince Vaughn
Billy Bob Thornton
Bridget Fonda
Peter Fonda
Paul Reubens
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Pete Anderson
Dwight Yoakam

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

†††† Valentine (Val) Casey (Dwight Yoakam) is the Marshall of a small town in Arizona Territory on Christmas Eve 1907 when a band of men led by Leland Henry (Luke Askew) which includes his sons Taylor (Vince Vaughn) and Arvid (Paul Rubens) ride into town. They drop in on Val; it seems Val had been brought up by Leland but had left eleven years previously to join the US Army. Before leaving town, the gang rob an army payroll, killing a number of people and Val is unable to prevent their escape.

†††† Nine months later. Val is no longer a Marshall and has come into another small town, Dunfries on the Mexican / US border, to sell horses to Shoshonee Bill (Peter Fonda), a man who had been his superior officer in the army and is now a showman. Also arriving in town is Adalyne Dunfries (Bridget Fonda). She has come to see her father Burl (Matt Clark) and to collect a young dead and dumb girl from her uncle Angus (Bo Hopkins) and take her to San Francisco. The attraction between Adalyne and Val is immediate. In another story-line US Government official Agent Otts (Bud Cort) has come to the territory looking for Valís next of kin, as Val was reported killed in Cuba in 1898 while on army service.

†††† After a number of digressions, including a lot of dialogue and a balloon flight, the plot proper restarts when Taylor North and some gang members come into Dunfries, rob and kill Adalyneís father and attempt to rape Adalyne. Val is absent but when he returns to town he is determined to bring all the North gang to justice. He sets out for the North ranch and a confrontation that can only have fatal consequences.

†††† South of Heaven, West of Hell was very much a film by Dwight Yoakam; he is the co-writer, director, star and he wrote the music. He managed to assemble some name actors for the cast including Peter Fonda, Bridget Fonda, Billy Bob Thornton and veteran Bo Hopkins (so memorable in The Wild Bunch, he is very good here) and the film, shot on location in Arizona for about $4m, looks great. South of Heaven, West of Hell was released in 2000 but almost no-one saw it. I think this is because the film struggles to find its tone and to define its place in the western genre.

†††† South of Heaven, West of Hell is a talky western where a coherent plotline is of less importance than an almost Leone like interest in atmosphere, landscape, faces and digressions. South of Heaven West of Hell is very leisurely storytelling; there are long lingering vistas of the windswept desert landscape while characters appear that add nothing to the story-line. The character of Brigadier Smalls, played by Billy Bob Thornton, is a good example. Yoakam appeared in Thorntonís Oscar winning Sling Blade (1994) (Thornton wrote, acted and directed and won an Oscar for writing) so he repaid the favour to Yoakam but his character has nothing to do with the plot, he leaves before any action occurs and he could be cut out altogether and not affect the film. Probably his name helped with funding. Peter Fonda has a bit more to do, but again his character is peripheral to the story-line.

†††† In a lot of ways, including the depiction of action sequences, South of Heaven, West of Hell is fairly traditional. After the spaghetti westerns, including the Dollars trilogy, changed the way westerns were made, in the US The Wild Bunch (1969) and Unforgiven (1992) represented two diverse ways of reworking the western genre for a new audience. The few in number US made westerns which followed, such as Tombstone (1992), took into account the new ideas on how to represent action, however, the action in South of Heaven, West of Hell, is not staged with any innovation; the film feels to be in a straight line from such films as The Magnificent Seven (1960), albeit more brutal and bloody.

†††† Despite the known names in the credits, South of Heaven, West of Hell failed at the box office and Yoakam has not directed another film. With tighter control over the script and a more experienced director South of Heaven, West of Hell could have been much better. As it is the film looks beautiful, with its stunning sunsets and wind swept streets and landscapes, but the plot is too meandering and bogged down to hold oneís interest and the action, although energetic, is nothing that we have not seen before.

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Transfer Quality


†††† South of Heaven, West of Hell is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

††††Much of the film looks absolutely gorgeous, with the windswept landscapes of Arizona and dusty towns wonderfully rendered in golden hues of yellow and brown. Sunsets also look stunning. On the other hand, many of the interiors are very dark, with shadow detail indistinct. In night scenes blacks are good, but again shadow detail is indistinct, so sometimes it is difficult to see what is happening. Brightness and contrast also occasionally vary.

†††† The film has a number of small artefacts, mostly black marks, aliasing and a fair amount of ghosting and quite heavy grain. There is a major problem between 7:04 and 7:09 where the print breaks up completely, but this is the only time it happens.

†††† There are no subtitles.

†††† Not the best of prints, but except for the major problem noted the artefacts were not distracting and the landscapes look gorgeous.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


†††† Audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 192 Kbps, surround encoded.

†††† Dialogue was generally clear although some sentences were hard to hear and there are no subtitles to help. Gunshots lacked the depth of more recent films, but they were OK. The original music by Dwight Yoakam, especially the main theme, was effective. There was mostly music in the surrounds and no sub-woofer use that I noticed, even during the explosions. There were a couple of slight drop-outs.

†††† Lip synchronisation is fine.

†††† The audio track was acceptable.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


†††† None.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

†††† The Region 1 US release has the following extras:

†††† The US audio is English Dolby Digital 5.1 (not the 2.0 we have) but the print is not 16x9 enhanced. The Australian Region All release is 16x9 enhanced, but misses out on everything else.

†††† The extras give it to Region 1.

†††† A note on the filmís running time. The US release runs 133 minutes. The Australian DVD packaging gives the running time as 108 minutes, but this is wrong. Our version runs 126:30, which should be the complete film with the 4% PAL speedup.


†††† South of Heaven, West of Hell seems ultimately bogged in its own inertia. It certainly looks beautiful but the plot is too meandering and the action, although energetic, is nothing that we have not seen before.

†††† The video and audio are nothing special but get the job done. We miss out on all the extras available in the US. Fans of westerns or the star may get something out of this film; it is hard to recommend to others.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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