Scott Eastwood has been diligently avoiding doing a western ever since he made his acting debut in 2006’s Flags of Our Fathers, and considering he is sent around 50 gun-slinging scripts a month, that’s a lot of avoidance. His apprehension makes complete sense seeing as his dad Clint Eastwood basically created what we know of the western genre. With a family history like that, there must be a lot of pressure on the young actor to live up to his last name. However, when director Lawrence Roeck offered to write a different type of western just for him, Eastwood finally relented and now we have Diablo.
Diablo had its sold-out World Premiere at the San Diego Film Festival on October 2, going on to win audience’s pick for Best Feature. With nearly the entire cast on-hand to answer questions afterwards (Eastwood was in the middle of shooting two movies and was unable to attend), a lot of insight was provided as to how the movie was made and more importantly, why.
Photo Credit: San Diego Film Festival
Written in 30 days by Carlos de los Rios, the movie follows Jackson (Eastwood), a troubled Civil War veteran whose wife (Camilla Bell) is kidnapped in the opening scene. Without spoiling the end, he embarks on a long journey to recover his wife and encounters several people along the way, some foes and some old friends. Roeck assembled a pretty great team around Eastwood, including Walton Goggins (Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, Sons of Anarchy) and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Shooter, The Color Purple), which succeeds to offer the actor support in scenes that would struggle otherwise.
Where Diablo shines is its slow build-up and refusal to rely on classic western typecasts—you don’t see any saloons or whorehouses, for instance. Shot in Calgary, Canada and Paso Robles, California, the simple film looks gorgeous as it highlights the disastrous outcome of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental illness. Roeck told the San Diego audience that the two conditions are “subjects rarely discussed in tandem with the Civil War.” Adding that he’s “excited for the audience to see that explored in a Western movie that’s also a psychological thriller.” The crew also took Mexican and Cree characterization very seriously, wanting to flip the genre’s many stereotypes and present these cultures as more sophisticated than the film’s American star—Jackson is actually the uncivilized outsider, not the other way around.
Diablo may remind you of many different films, from Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man to Clint’s spaghetti westerns to Quentin Tarantino’s work, but it manages to scrape by on its own for most of the film. The twist ending may be pretty obvious to hardcore cinephiles from the get-go, but some in the audience didn’t catch on until it was fully revealed—which is also where the film faltered a little, finding the shift in tone to be difficult to pull off.
Though it’s impossible to watch Eastwood and not think of his father—since the resemblance is uncanny at times—it’s not very fair to compare the two. Eastwood is at his best when his character is alone with only a horse to relate to. When faced with interacting with other people, he falls victim to trying too hard, even though he has very little to say. The director seemed to notice this, giving Goggins and Glover most of the big dialogue to chew when onscreen with him. That isn’t to say that he’s bad, since there are definitely moments where Eastwood shines.
Diablo doesn’t have a trailer yet and as far as I can tell, it won’t be getting worldwide distribution. A limited release (if any) would actually be for the best, since the film probably wouldn’t be able to hold up to intense critical scrutiny. But that’s okay, because Eastwood isn’t hurting for work; he will appear in Snowden alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and is appearing in the highly-anticipated Suicide Squad.
Overall, Diablo doesn’t do much to change the western genre as much as the director would hope—watch John Hillcoat’s The Proposition if you’re looking for something different—but it does present Scott Eastwood as a possible action star and that’s enough of a reason to check it out.