Action / Adventure / Western
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
My Rating: 8 out of 10
If ever there was a movie with the formula to make my balls tingle, this one would be it. Before I had seen a trailer or before I had seen a single shot, I knew this had the potential to send me to the nut house for descending into pure delirium. Upon cast announcement and seeing who the director was, I had already put my vote in the 'YES' tick box for 'movie of the year'. If you can’t tell already I was a little excited. Not only do I love westerns, I also happen to think that Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors out there and everything I seem to see him in, I enjoy immensely even if they are not massive big hits. Add to that the white Will Smith, Mr Cool himself, Chris Pratt. Then add to that Ethan Hawke, then add to that Vincent “Kingpin” D’Onofrio, then add to that the same director who brought us Training Day, Antoine Fuqua, then add to that…. OK… so you get the point. But with so many people here this could easily have been an almighty mess (a lá Suicide Squad) so although I was quite obviously as excited as a 10 year old, I also had the same nerves as a spotty teen in high school. Could this film possibly live up to my expectations?
It’s a magnificent yes! This is exactly the type of film this genre needed. It has been a tricky scene to deal with the old western. Not many of the modern age have really had the same magic I used to get when watching the old spaghetti westerns of the past. Yes, we have had a Tarantino effort (Hateful Eight) which really did encapsulate the feel of those old style ones, but efforts for the most part of the modern era have been pretty disappointing. However, Fuqua gets the balance of western and action absolutely spot on to make this a pulse racing assault on the eyes. Some of the action scenes are simply mesmerising. They are shot to perfection, and I must say, it's some of the finest gun slinging I have had the privilege to witness. It is just magnificent by name and magnificent by nature.
Fuqua should also be commended for commanding all of the big name star ensemble. Denzel is clearly the main man, but the others get their time to shine and none of it feels forced. The camaraderie between characters should also be noted. Suicide Squad failed to deliver a group film because the group had barely any chemistry, no interaction. Thankfully there was no such failing here. All of the squad here were joking and bouncing off each other and it all flowed naturally, which made the parts between the action so enjoyable.
Now onto that mega cast. Well, Denzel delivers. Of that there is no doubt, he has the necessary presence on screen to pull off being in command of these other unbelievable stars, Chris Pratt is his usual humorous self and he is fast becoming one of my favourite actors of all time. He seems to be popping up in every film I have loved within the past few years and add to that his role in 'Parks & Recreation' and I think I love him more than I probably should another man. Ethan Hawke also puts in a shift but it was Byung-hun Lee who shone above any other for his stellar action work. Vincent D’Onofrio also brings humour and likability to his role, Martin Sensmeier despite being one of the less vocal characters, also delivers when on screen and perhaps my only disappointment of the main cast is Manuel Garcia Rulfo who (for whatever reason) I just didn't click with as much. He has spots of good banter with the others but I feel he is the only one of the main cast who seems to fall into the background. But with so much talent on offer it’s hardly surprising one person might fall a little flat, I think we can forgive both Rulfo and Fuqua for that.
Now it's all well and good having decent pawns for the chess board but that doesn't make a good game. We also need the story to be good and thankfully we are served a screenplay based on the originals, which keeps it true to the feel of old westerns. It was a stereotypical good guy/bad guy plot, no major shocks but thats not what westerns are about, so hardly a surprise. I felt the writing, certainly of the relationships between the cast, was great and despite its obvious Western 'old' setting, it actually brought a fresh modern feel to old saloons of the wild west.
The villain of the piece was a slightly indifferent affair however, which is one of my only negative points. He faded as the film went on, at first he was almost an inhuman devil of a man but by the end his fear factor seemed to disperse and he seemed to be taken care of a little too easy. I would have expected one last hurrah from him to really make his character shine but that moment never came.
I know it would be easy to compare to the old ones at this point and I am sure there are more than a few people saying "this doesn't stack up", but I honestly think this gives a fresh injection of life to a brilliant classic franchise. As a film in its own right I think it demonstrates far more positive than negative, though I can hear an army of veterans screaming ‘it’s not as good as it was in the old days’ and perhaps, for them, no matter who was on screen or who was in the director's chair, nothing could compare to the westerns they loved from the 60’s. As a fan of the old ones myself though, I purposely avoided comparison and enjoyed immensely immersing myself into a western for the modern age. The Western genre really is flavour of the month at the moment, it seems, and after such a long time of being ignored, it’s about time. With the hit TV show Westworld having such a successful run and big directors such as Fuqua and Tarantino providing great films like this, I for one am a very happy wannabe cowboy, but even if you don’t consider yourself a massive western lover, I think you will be more than happy with this one, simply saddle up and enjoy the ride.