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DIABLO (review)

Review by Dean Galanis
Produced by Lawrence Roeck, Shana Wilson
Written by Carlos De Los Rios, Lawrence Roeck
Directed by Lawrence Roeck
Starring Scott Eastwood, Walton Goggins, Camilla Belle,
Samuel Marty, Danny Glover, Adam Beach

It’s both an obvious and a risky choice for the son of Clint Eastwood to play the lead in a Western. One would imagine he might have the genes to pull it off, but what if he doesn’t?

Well, what could have been an embarrassment for Scott Eastwood turns out to be a triumph.

Wisely eschewing any blatant winks or nods to the elder Eastwood’s legacy, Scott, director/co-writer Lawrence Roeck and co-writer Carlos De Los Rios instead have crafted a Western/film noir hybrid that works on its own terms, and quite well at that.

Diablo jumps right in, even bypassing opening titles.

Jackson (Eastwood), his home and barn engulfed in flames, fires his rifle at a small group of Mexicans on horseback who have just kidnapped his wife. He’s unable to stop them, and after a failed attempt to retrieve his pistols from the burning barn, passes out from smoke inhalation. He takes off the next morning to track the villains and retrieve his wife.

While the opening and basic structure do recall Papa Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales to an extent (and the tone, at times, resembles darker Clint Westerns, such as Hang ‘Em High and High Plains Drifter), Diablo is very much its own thing.

The film works both as an entertaining yarn and an examination of PTSD, as we learn early on that Jackson fought in the Civil War and his experiences left some deep emotional scars.

Roeck and De Los Rios dole out bits and pieces of Jackson’s background during his episodic hunt for his wife. Along the way, Jackson encounters some interesting guest stars, including Beach’s wary Native American, Clear and Present Danger‘s Joaquim de Almeida, Rush Hour’s Tzi Ma and the born-to-act-in-Westerns Walton Goggins, who strikes just the right note as a creepy, enigmatic stranger.

In fact, all of the acting here is top-notch (with the exception of the passable performance by comparative lightweight Belle, whose screen time is minimal), with Eastwood giving a commanding performance in the lead. Looking a helluva lot like his dad when he winces and squints, Scott, however, very correctly gives a performance that does NOT ape his father (albeit with the occasional whispered line reading clearly evoking Clint).

This is the first time I’ve seen Scott in a film, and I was quite impressed. Jackson is not an easy, straightforward “stoic cowboy” role; he has nuances and goes through many more emotions than your run of the mill, horse opera lead. Diablo would have collapsed without a compelling lead performance; Eastwood steps up and delivers.

While there are no great shocks here, the movie still has some revelations that make it difficult to review without spoilers. Suffice it to say, if you’re a Western fan who doesn’t need endless shootouts to keep you involved, you owe it to yourself to check out Diablo, a low-key, dark and overall nifty oater.

Diablo will be released in theaters, VOD and iTunes on January 8, 2016
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