Remakes will always be a tough sell, and we’ve had to endure some shite in the past. I noticed that the critical reception for this latest effort has been rather mixed. I never saw the original movie and probably never ill. So I’m probably in the best position to take this one in with a fairly open mind. Denzel Washington is a bounty hunter / marshal who comes to the aid of a recently widowed woman who’s town has been taken over by a ruthless businessman out to plunder the mines for any gold he can find. Washington agrees to help the woman seek revenge but first must rally a group of cowboys and what not to his aid. Along for the ride is a card hustler (Chris Pratt), a sharp shooter (Ethan Hawk) and an assassin (Byung-hun Lee).
Antoine (Training Day) Fuqua’s movie is immediately attractive and captures the setting and especially the feel of a western brilliantly. He has a keen eye for iconic shots and delivers in the action, where I’d go as far as to say this has some of the best action of the year for me, complete with excellently choreographed gunfights and traditional (not CGI) stunt work. The plot for what it is, is simple and only serves to bring together a likeable gang of gunslingers that I quickly grew to care about. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before but when it’s got stand-outs from Washington and Pratt as well and plenty of energy and a great score from James Horner – what’s there to grumble about?
If I was to nit-pick it would be to say the movie does revel in it’s clichés such as how it’s filmed, typical western movie imagery and well, several moments that occur are typical of the genre to the point of near-parody. Also characterisation, which with such an ensemble cast isn’t easy could have been a little better. I wanted more backstory to Denzel’s character which would have added weight to a later revelation, and well, we learn pretty much nothing about who Chris Pratt is other than handy with a gun and a deck of cards.
Yet this feels like a celebration not just of the movie it’s based on but westerns as a whole. So in that respect I can forgive it’s familiarity or lack of anything particularly new and just enjoy it for what it is – damn good entertainment.
I decided it was high time I checked out some of the much talked about movies from yesteryear that any self-respecting movie fan should see, and after perusing the much heralded IMDB Top 250 recently – this was one of the titles that leaped out at me. Growing up I can’t say Westerns really appealed to me all that much and still don’t really, but I’m open minded enough to seek them out occasionally especially if they really are as good as history will have one believe. However to put it bluntly – this isn’t one of the good ones.
Robert Redford and Paul Newman play two charming outlaws who rob banks and mail trains whilst womanising their way through the old west. These two are likable and clearly the main appeal of this movie as everything else, the plot, supporting characters and even the direction, seems half-assed. The story for what it’s worth, is basically watch these guys rob some people, then they start getting hunted by a posse, and then have to skip across the boarder until they get cornered in a village. There really is no more to it than that. Also the tone here is incredibly uneven, with occasional comedy that isn’t all that funny, and drama that isn’t all that dramatic due to a complete lack of tension or interesting scenarios. Aiding Redford and Newman is Katherine Ross as a local girl involved with these outlaws, who has no personality apart from smouldering good looks and delivers lines like a Stepford Wife. Even Newman & Redford’s performance, for such acclaimed actors feels lacking, like they are bored with their characters and only here to accept their pay cheques. However beyond lacklustre performances, lacklustre direction (it’s the old west…why doesn’t this look beautiful?) it’s the inclusion of Burt Bacharach’s ill-advised score with songs such as ‘raindrops keep falling on my head’ that ultimately jarred this viewer, often stopping the movie dead for pointless montage sequences or farce.
The movie began hopefully with a sepia colour pallet and some mood and atmosphere …but this was dropped immediately after the opening scene. Looking back I think if the movie had been presented entirely in such a way, then at least it would have had something to linger in the memory and help live up to such ‘classic’ status. I’m not saying there weren’t a few fun moments or witty lines … just none of it came together for me to make for a particularly satisfying experience. A so-called classic to avoid then unless you’re totally in love with Redford or Newman, something I believe Hollywood must have been at the time for this to have got any awards or attention.
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