Director JT Mollner serves up a gripping, desolate Western/Thriller hybrid in his new film, Outlaws and Angels. Loosely based on his short film, Henry John and the Little Bug from 2009, Mollner expanded his original story into a terrifying home invasion scenario. He also wanted to explore the family dynamic within the patriarchal, lawless old West. He aimed to “make a movie that was contained, but also felt like there were a lot of boundaries to be pushed within the Western genre.”
Starring Francesca Eastwood as the fifteen year old Florence, and an unrecognizable Chad Michael Murray as the quietly menacing Henry, the film is full of plot twists and turns. And despite the hostage like situation, the chemistry between the two leads is palpable. However, Florence is more clever and resourceful than the average teenager and may be the only hope to save her family, including her mother (an uncharacteristically raw Teri Polo), her sister Charlotte (Madisen Beaty), and hapless father, George, (Ben Browder).
Mollner doesn’t shy away from the cruel realities of living on the frontier, both physically and emotionally. One of the challenges of capturing the harsh environment was shooting on all natural locations in New Mexico. Utilizing the area known as Diamond Tail, the cast, crew and equipment was exposed to the elements, just like the characters. Checking the gate was of utmost importance in the dusty, rugged region. In addition, no less than fifteen other bigger budget productions were shooting in Santa Fe at the same time. Their small character driven film strove to carve out it’s own territory among the urgent needs of the studio movies..
The film was off to an inauspicious start, as ironically, the actress Dee Wallace was set to play the older frontier woman, Esther, in a pivotal scene that opens the movie. She was however, on hold for a Spielberg show she couldn’t drop out of due to contractual reasons. And, you know, because it was Spielberg! With only a few weeks before production, Mollner courageously asked Francesca Eastwood if he might possibly ask her famous mother to step in to the role. Francisca had grown up watching her mother work one film sets, and thought the idea was wonderful. She couldn’t make any promises though.
As luck and pluck would have it, Mollner and Frances Fisher talked on the phone for an hour and a half about film, westerns, and his script and they got along famously. Fisher agreed to the project and Mollner said it was like a dream come true to have a legend like Frances on the set. “We were all in awe of Frances,” relayed the director. “She was so down to earth and her work is stunning.” For Frances’ part, she was thrilled to have the chance to be in a film with her talented daughter. For once, she had the unique opportunity to watch her daughter work and couldn’t be prouder. “All scenes were shot out of order, and to watch Francesca easily morph into character after just having been joking around at the craft services table was breathtaking.” When Francesca was younger, Frances used to coach her on her auditions, so she felt that Mollner had really given the Eastwood family a gift with this opportunity.
As for Mollner, he was proudest of the performances. It was something he never really expected and the entire ensemble blew him away. The movie is in theaters now, and it’s a must see, as delving into the plot, and arcs on paper would be like cheating you out of the unique experience. If you like your movies, gritty, disturbing and harrowing, then as Hunter S. Thompson used to say, “Buy the ticket – take the ride.”