Friday, July 14, 2017

Denzel, Denzel

The Magnificent Seven (2016): based by Nic Pizzolato and Richard Wenk on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni; directed by Antoine Fuqua; starring Denzel Washington (Chisolm), Chris Pratt (Faraday), Ethan Hawke (Robicheaux), Vincent D'Onofrio (Horne), Byung-hun Lee (Rocks), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Vasquez), Martin Sensmeier (Red Harvest), Haley Bennett (Emma), and Peter Sarsgaard (Bogue): 

The film-makers wisely go on a much different track with this new adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai rather than simply ape the classic, elegiac 1960 Western of the same name. Now, the villagers are American, the enemy is a land-grabbing businessman (putting this version more in line with Shane or Pale Rider than the 1960 film), and the Magnificent Seven of the title are a veritable United Nations of noble mercenaries.

The cast is pretty much uniformly terrific, from Denzel Washington in the steely eyed Yul Brynner role to Martin Sensmeier as a Ninja Comanche. Vincent D'Onofrio is also great as an 'Indian fighter' who looks like a disheveled grizzly bear. And Peter Sarsgaard is oily and nutty as the evil businessman whose speeches sound an awful lot like the Republican Party platform of the 21st century. He's hired his endless orc-army of mercenaries from a company whose name echoes that of infamous current-day military contracting firm Blackwater, though the company is also a nod to the Pinkertons of the 19th century.

The main problem with the film is that unlike Yul Brynner's cowboy, Denzel Washington's character requires personal motivation for his defense of the village. Oh, well. None of the other characters require such motivation. Hollywood 101! But it's nice to see a multi-ethnic, multi-racial band of heroes. Director Antoine Fuqua, who has worked with Denzel Washington before on Training Day and The Equalizer, stages a number of effective battle sequences and also does nice work with the characterization of the Seven. It's a fairly engaging and occasionally rousing bit of popular entertainment. Recommended.

The Bone Collector (1999): adapted by Jeremy Iacone from the Jeffrey Deaver novel; directed by Philip Noyce; starring Denzel Washington (Lincoln Rhyme), Angelina Jolie (Amelia), Queen Latifah (Thelma), and Michael Rooker (Cheney): Solid, atmospheric thriller features Denzel Washington as a quadriplegic forensics expert and Angelina Jolie as the beat cop who becomes his on-site eyes and ears. They track a serial killer who seems to be playing a game with them involving old New York homicides. Things go well until the ridiculous revelation of the identity of the serial killer and his motives at the end. Worth watching despite the letdown of the last ten minutes, as Washington and the young Jolie are both charismatic and believable in their roles. Lightly recommended.

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