In this fantasy set in the Old West,
Blackjack Britton is an outlaw on the run after a
bank robbery. Britton and his gang wind up in a small
town called Refuge, where things are rather unusual -
outlaws are warmly welcomed and offered free food and
lodging but warned not to swear, and none of the
residents carry guns, including Sheriff Forrest. Britton
and his gang notice that Sheriff Forrest bears a
striking resemblance to the famous gunfighter Wild Bill
Hickock, who died some years ago. Elsewhere in Refuge,
Britton's gang meets dead ringers for such late, great
outlaws as Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid and Jesse James.
Britton learns that Refuge is actually Purgatory, where
the gunfighters are stranded between Heaven and Hell,
hoping to find a redemptive grace that will bring
them salvation as they struggle not to backslide into
final damnation. Soon Britton's gang becomes restless,
and the men of Refuge may have to return to their guns
if they are to protect the town. Produced for the TNT
Ray Richmond, Variety:
This simplistic but enchanting TNT Original Western asks the burning question,
“Do gunslingers go to heaven?” Answer: Not if they have long hair, facial
stubble and a tendency to swear, ruling out pretty much everyone who ever worked
with Sam Peckinpah. Indeed, the importance of good grooming and clean language
is the primary lesson imparted from a good vs. evil parable that’s lent moody
texture by director Uli Edel and raw energy by the incomparable Sam Shepard, and
by Eric Roberts, who remains up there with John Malkovich in his ability to
quietly inhabit the sinister loose-cannon role.
The film plays more or less like an extended episode
of "The Twilight Zone,"
putting a decidedly metaphysical spin on the conventional horsey movie by
looking squarely into the eyes of its lawless perpetrators as they unwittingly
careen toward Judgment Day. It’s far too long, and the concept begins to lose
its steam about halfway in, yet there is something inspiring in the message that
keeps you there.
And, well, just having Shepard around is a treat in itself. He is typically
brilliant and understated in Gordon Dawson’s colorful script as Sheriff Forrest,
who presides over a strange little dot on the prairie landscape called Refuge.
It’s a stark and eerie place, the kind of town Rod Serling could have
appreciated. None of the folks, not even the sheriff, packs a gun, for one
thing. They don’t take too kindly to people saying "damn."
And everyone looks sorta … familiar.
Things go pretty much down the road we expect them to in “Purgatory.” The bad
guys wind up eating fire and brimstone. The good guys get escorted to a somewhat
nicer place. But predictable platitudes and all, the film leaves you charmed and
thinking — about life, about mortality, about goodness, about badness, even
about the odd correlation between inner decency and physical attractiveness.
Strange how that works.
And if Sam Shepard can go an entire movie without once saying
"Damn," it should serve as an inspiration to
the profanity-challenged across the land.
Technical credits sparkle, particularly Stephen
Marsh’s lush production design and the nifty stunt work.
Anita Gates, NY Times:
Very few men can stand quietly in the middle of an empty street with
the authority and the tough, soft-spoken sexiness of Sam Shepard. And the TNT
movie ''Purgatory'' is Mr. Shepard's best opportunity since he played Chuck
Yeager in ''The Right Stuff'' 16 years ago to show that off.
Mr. Shepard's character, Sheriff Forrest (who turns
out to be someone far more famous), has something in common with Bill Munny,
played by Clint Eastwood in the Oscar-winning film ''Unforgiven.'' He is a
gunslinger, a really good one, who put down his weapons years ago and became a
peaceful, God-fearing man. When a situation arises that may lead him to strap on
his holster again, his decision feels momentous. And in ''Purgatory,'' a
fascinating, deceptively dark western with more than a touch of
''The Twilight Zone,'' it is.
''Purgatory'' has a curious morality. For most of its length, the film manages
to make churchgoing and a determined pacifism look like the manly, more
difficult choices. But then it has the nerve to make the old-fashioned western
shootout exciting again.
Terry Kelleher, People magazine:
Take away the boots and saddles and six-shooters and what is this TV movie?
Basically, a two-hour "Twilight Zone"
episode. But it’s a good "Twilight Zone"
episode. It’s best not to reveal too many plot
details, but western fans have an old-fashioned, well-staged shootout to look
forward to. Shepard is perfectly cast as the laconic lawman with an intriguing
resemblance to Wild Bill Hickok (not to mention Gary Cooper), and Randy Quaid
contributes a droll turn as the town physician. The script gets a bit muddled
when it ventures to discuss eternal reward and punishment, but Purgatory is
worth passing through.