Watching Scott Eastwood in Diablo, it’s impossible not to think of his father, Clint, and not only because the men share distinctively sharp cheekbones and a husk of a voice that, in Clint’s case, conveys vulnerability and embittered emotional violence. Lawrence Roeck’s film has been explicitly conceived as an opportunity for the younger Eastwood to emulate the persona that cemented his elder’s legend, fusing elements of The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter, Unforgiven, and the Dollars trilogy into a revenge narrative spanning portions of the American West during the period of unrest following the Civil War. Depending on how kind one is feeling, Diablo constitutes either a desperate homage or brazen act of theft.
Ironically, Scott has a limitation that some, most memorably Pauline Kael, accused Clint of having: His handsome face doesn’t give the camera much of anything to go on. Scott doesn’t project the sense of steely, feral danger that effectively defines a large portion of Clint’s career; all that registers, instead, is a placid aura of anonymity. In Diablo, Scott offers a Teflon copy of Clint’s wildness, affecting the latter’s sneer, occasionally chewing one of those little cigars that reliably dotted Clint’s mouth in the Dollars films, and even quoting one of Unforgiven’s most chilling lines during a pivotal scene, but these gestures fall poignantly short of their inspiration, while reminding one of the considerably better films that they could be watching.
Adding unintended insult to injury is Walton Goggins, who is in Clint Eastwood’s league, and who turns up in Diablo for a few scenes, just long enough to resolutely underline how little Scott Eastwood brings to this particular party. Goggins has been typecast as a silver-tongued flimflam man, in the tradition of the characters he played in Justified and The Hateful Eight, but the actor is so sensually, poetically alive that it doesn’t matter, especially next to Eastwood’s hopelessly contemporary man of few words. Danny Glover also makes an appearance, his briefly intense moment with Goggins fleetingly suggesting a real movie rather than a self-conscious vanity project.
But we’re mostly stranded with Eastwood and Roeck’s inelegant attempts to infuse a standard revenge western with the gravitas of a war veteran’s coming-home odyssey, which includes the usual, unconvincing Native American and damsel-in-distress clichés. There’s also a heavily telegraphed twist that only serves to provide Eastwood with another persona to blandly underplay. Dean Cundey’s cinematography is characteristically gorgeous, giving one something to look at during Diablo’s frequent longueurs, but the film is fussy and tedious, often laying across the screen like an empty carcass.