Tuesday , April 13 2021
Hells Gate

Film Review: ‘The Legend of Hell’s Gate’ – Drama or Documentary?

Hell’s Gate is a separation between two massive stone mountains cut by the Brazos River in the Possum Kingdom area of Texas. Why people call it that name inspired the film The Legend of Hell’s Gate by multi-talented actor-writer-director Tanner Beard, and his Strikeback Studios. As the name Hell’s Gate suggests, the inspirations were violent and evil.

Hells Gate

Texas in 1876 combined the untamed frontier, outlaws, Indians, dance hall girls and a lot of gunfights. Into this mix add memories and refugees from the Civil War. The story involves an errand boy who chooses to escape the boredom of his life by running away with two of the many outlaws in town. The cast is amazing, the cinematography impressive, but the structure of the film presents a challenge.

The Cast

Beard stars as James, one of the men on the run. He ends up allied with Will, played by Eric Balfour (Six Feet Under, 24). Lou Taylor Pucci (Evil Dead, American Horror Story) plays the errand boy, Kelly. The trio engage in various nefarious acts, cross paths with famous outlaws and end up heading towards a gap in the mountains. Bad things happen along the way.

Hells Gate
Summer Glau plays Maggie Moon

Other faces you’re likely to recognize include Jamie Thomas King (Mad Men, The Tudors), Glenn Morshower (The Resident, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), Kevin Alejandro (Lucifer, The Returned), and, my favorite, in a small but important role, Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

The Film

The structure of the film presents something of a challenge. As I watched, I kept wondering: “Who is the hero? Wait, where did that guy go?” This is not High Noon or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As I got deeper into the film, I began to think this should have been a mini-series. So many characters and so much action in the first 10 minutes can overwhelm the viewer.

Hells Gate
You can’t ride through Hell’s Gate today

The film begins with a flash-forward, a technique used by another Strikeback Studio film, The Dark Divide. You see an event at the start. Then the film goes back in time and works its way forward, returning to that event. Here’s a non-spoiler hint: the chase scene at the beginning of the film is a flash-forward. Somehow, I missed this important point. Now you won’t.

The film does not follow classic three-act structure. Even if you don’t know what that means, you see it and, at least subliminally, sense it in almost every Hollywood movie. Think of The Legend of Hell’s Gate as a documentary created by a filmmaker who traveled though a time warp, or an episode of Crime Stories with Nancy Grace.

The Production

I was happily surprised to see that the film was produced in Texas, near to where the original events took place, unlike last year’s Miracle in East Texas, which was produced in Alberta, Canada. It couldn’t be produced in exactly the same terrain because the Morris Shepard Dam, built by the W.P.A. for flood control in the late 1930s, submerged the area, creating Possum Kingdom Lake. Yet, Hell’s Gate still protrudes from the water.

Hells Gate
Director Tanner Beard watches playback with Director of Photography Nathanael Vorce and Actor Lou Taylor Pucci

The old wild west town used in the filming was also located in Texas.

You can stream, rent, or buy The Legend of Hell’s Gate on most platforms, including Amazon Prime, Vudu, Tubi, iTunes, Fandango Now, Google Play, and YouTube.

So, saddle up, pardner and get ready for a surprising ride.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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