Roman J. Israel Esq.

Roman J. Israel Esq.

The legal drama starring Denzel Washington as Roman J. Israel Esq., a lawyer who has spent his career as the man behind the curtain so to speak. An eccentric legal savant, Israel must confront his hardline views of helping the poor and the disaffected when he is thrust into a world of money and power that he's only seen from a safe distance.

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Review: The Magnificent Seven

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Coming out with a remake in today’s movie climate is something of a risk; with the glut of remakes, reboots, and the general re-use of tired themes throughout Hollywood productions, the public and reviewers are growing less and less forgiving. Just look at the recent performances of movies such as Conan the Barbarian, Ben-Hur, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, films that languished either critically, financially, or both.

I mean, if you even tried to list out all the remakes/reboots that have been released in the past decade, you’d run out of paper. So, when Antoine Fuqua decided to try his hand at the classic redemption story The Magnificent Seven, he had to have known the risks, however, he also knew many of the elements of the original that made it appealing: the great ensemble cast and riveting action sequences being some of the most important of them. Unfortunately, despite Fuqua’s ability to absolutely nail the feel and excitement of a classic western such as The Magnificent Seven, he is unable to draw home for the viewers the intense and deep emotions drawn out by this story of bad men doing good things.

The original, itself an interpretation of a classic (Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), combined a force in directing at the time in John Sturges with some of the most appealing actors the 1960s could offer, including Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. The younger cast would notably go on to become stars and hallmarks of the film became its almost nihilistic sense of completion and the incredible, widely used soundtrack it produced. Fuqua completes the cycle in most of these areas; however, the sense of loss and redemption that suffused the classic (and its inspiration) is completely lost here.

However, that is not the fault of an amazing ensemble cast. Let’s start with Fuqua’s preferred actor Denzel Washington who played “Sam Chisolm”, a hardened, quiet but brutal bounty hunter struggling to seek justice for past misdeeds done to him. Washington takes this role and adds the same steely grit we’ve seen in Fuqua’s other films The Equalizer and Training Day, and he really does excel, becoming more of a joy to watch as the film proceeds. While this character does seem a bit one-dimensional, luckily there is a bevy of talent with him. Co-lead Chris Pratt might have just stolen the show as “Josh Farraday”, the gambler and cheat whose slyness and charm cannot be denied. Pratt runs away with this role, easily becoming the funniest character in the film as well as the most entertaining one. I found myself waiting for his lines, looking forward to whatever quip True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto had lined up for him next. And while Pratt is a natural at these types of characters, the writing really supports him quite well. Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee as the pair of “Goodnight Robicheaux” and “Billy Rocks” complement each other well, Hawke being the talkative rogue with plenty of demons (none of which are really delved into deeply enough) and Lee the mysterious foreigner with amazing knife skills (a role that, while stereotypical, is at least approached with some level of equality to the other leads). Vincent D’Onofrio turns in an inspired performance as tracker/trapper “Jack Horne”, a role you can tell he is having a lot of fun with. Martin Sensmeier portrays the Native American “Red Harvest” in a subdued but likeable role, while Manuel Garcia-Rulfo really fades into the background with cookie-cutter anti-hero “Vasquez” as his role, a Mexican outlaw with a few jokes but not much impact throughout the film.

My problem with these characters isn’t in their portrayal, but their lack of development. Having the lead be a black man is ripe with opportunities for real and impactful statements about race, even in the historic setting of the Wild West. However, this serves as a conflict for merely the opening scene, showing an overplayed trope of fear of otherness that isn’t really highlighted and becomes a confusing statement that seems included for the sake of explanation rather than development. Unfortunately, the same story goes for Lee’s character “Billy Rocks” and Sensmeier’s “Red Harvest”, as some racial epithets are used to display racial tension in only the most surface manner, and very little digging into the thematic is done besides that.

Aside from the spectacular performances and the subpar writing, this movie excels aesthetically. The soundtrack is the last one produced by James Horner who died during production, and brings to mind immediately all of the feeling of a true western immediately. It is at once reminiscent and engaging, not too derivative itself but nicely complementing the derivative story by really melding with the setting perfectly. And the landscape shots in this movie, good lord, the landscape shots! Straight out of the western playbook of wide ranges, setting suns, and waves of heat pouring across the landscape. The cinematography of this movie really nails the mood they are going for, and serves as one part of this movie that deserved an update.

Ultimately, this movie risks little, not providing many interesting subplots and letting its characters wallow in shallow characterizations. However, the ensemble cast is far too good to be ignored, and almost make up for the writing with their engaging, hilarious dialogue and stellar portrayals. While this movie doesn’t really offer anything new, it does serve as an amusing interpretation of a classic, despite not being able to hold a candle to either of its predecessors thematically. I left the theater wanting more: more depth to the characters, more expression of the struggle to redeem oneself, more exploration of why bad men can do great things. However, what I got was entertaining enough as a fun late summer action-comedy flick that will be enjoyed, but ultimately forgotten.

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Review: The Equalizer

TheEqualizer Apparently the older you get, the more bad ass you become. At least that's what Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson are trying to prove. Between the two of them they've laid to waste countless numbers of dead bodies in the last 4 - 5 years of their careers. The body count doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon if Washington's new movie, The Equalizer, has anything to do with it. In his latest outing, Washington plays Robert McCall (maybe). An older gentleman who works at the local hardware store, has trouble sleeping at night and times everything he does with his trusty stop watch. A few of his co-workers are dying to find out what he did in the past but they just can't figure it out. When he's not at work, he's reading a book at the all night cafe talking to a woman of the night Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) and sipping some fire ass tea. One night his routine is interrupted when he sees his new found friend get tossed around a bit by some Russian dudes. After he visits her in the hospital and sees the aftermath of a particularly rough encounter, he's none to pleased. McCall is brought out of retirement to do what he does best.

Look, by now we all know that Washington is incredibly charming on screen and he does not disappoint at all in this roll. Granted he's Denzel playing Denzel but at this point in his career does he really need to do anything else? Needless to say, he pays the guys who did his friend wrong a visit, and proceeds to dispatch of them with the greatest of ease. Once he's gotten the first taste of blood he's had in what we can only speculate has been many years his mind is telling him no but his body is telling him yes; he's the conflicted hero. As much as he doesn't want to do it, he realizes that he can't help what he is. Meanwhile, the Russian mob gets wind of what has happened and send their number one cleanup guy Teddy (Marton Csokas). This guy is awesome and is an absolute perfect foil for Washington. One scene in particular had me clenching the arm of my seat. I honestly didn't know what was going to happen. He is easily one of the best villains I've seen on film in a long time. I call him the Russian Frank Underwood not only because he delivers his lines so perfectly but he also kind of looks like Kevin Spacey. Once he hits the scene, the movie becomes a game of cat and mouse. When he and Washington are on screen together, the tension goes through the roof and you really wish there was more of it.

The action sequences are highly entertaining. I mean it's Denzel Washington beating people up in very inventive ways. Who doesn't love that? Slow mo instances show that Washington turns into The Terminator when he gets into his zone. While others instances are there just to further his walk away from explosions legacy. The plot is nothing new and it delivers the same tropes that you've seen in the last 20 years of action cinema. However, there's just something about it that just clicks. Whether it's the fact that Denzel is just so damn good or the writing is solid especially for this type of movie or Antoine Fuqua, (who also directed Training Day) knows how to frame a shot, or Csokas is such a good villain. He really needs to be in more movies! It all just comes together to deliver a highly entertaining, slick slow burn action film that has an an incredibly ridiculous yet super satisfying ending that turns Washington's McCall into Jigsaw. It is far from perfect with some dead air in the middle but I really enjoyed this movie. Ain't nobody getting an Oscar for this one but if you like Denezel Washington just go see it.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Equalizer" cat1title="Terrence's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]