I know, I know - I'm a hypocrite. All I ever seem to do is
2) Denzel. As a cowboy.
4) Cowboy Denzel.
6) Denzel riding a horse. Oh, and he's a cowboy.
I walked into this movie wanting one thing, and one thing only. A Popcorn Movie. I wasn't expecting Citizen Kane. I was expecting cowboys, cowboys shooting bad guys, action, and fun. Basically if Ocean's Eleven was a western - that's kind of what I wanted. I wasn't expecting depth. I wasn't expecting deep. So what did I get? Well....
The story opens in a traditional, throw-back, heavy-handed sort of way. Peter Sarsgaard is our one-dimensional villain, a robber baron mine owner named Bogue who wants to run everybody off their land because...well, he wants it. An altercation at the town church leaves Emma Cullen's husband, Matthew (Matt Bomer in a blink and you'll miss him role) dead. Emma and some other guy (named Teddy Q, their relationship isn't really explained), end up another town over or so which is where they meet Chislom (Denzel) a bounty hunter who rides in and shoots up half the saloon. They convince him to help dispatch of Bogue, and in turn pick up wandering gambler Faraday (Chris Pratt).
On their way back to town they recruit confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his knife-throwing partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), ex-Indian hunter (niiiice) Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), and a lone Comanche with no tribe, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
One of the reviews I read slammed the use of the cast - basically saying that hey, it's great that we have a diverse cast but they're literally shallow pools. To be fair? None of these characters, regardless of race or ethnicity can be confused with "deep." This is a very surface movie. Even Denzel, who is The Star, is kept at arm's length. Further highlighting the shallowness is that there are frustrating teasing glimpses of what could have been. The relationship between Goodnight and Billy Rocks is destined to launch a thousand slash-fiction ships (and I'd read them all). There's a history between Chisholm and Goodnight that doesn't really go anywhere. Jack Horne made a living hunting Indians and now he's fighting alongside a Comanche. Vasquez is a wanted man recruited by the bounty-hunting Chisholm. Faraday is the comic relief but beneath the surface you can detect self-loathing. There's a lot of dynamics that could be put in play here that never really are.
What we have is a movie that clocks in at a smidge over 2 hours, and that's the problem. It's an action movie and given the plot you know there has to be a fair amount of time spent on the fight to free the town. The big long action scene is great, but what is sacrificed along the way is any sort of character development that goes beyond the surface broad strokes. Everything about this movie, from the surface-only characters to the music to the villain is about as subtle as a sledgehammer and it's all telegraphed very early on.
I can see all the faults of this movie (which I've just blathered on ad nauseam about...) and you know what? I'm not sure I care. And if you are already inclined to like westerns and, you know, Cowboy Denzel? You'll likely feel the same way I did. If you're ho-hum on westerns? This one is unlikely to change you mind.
Western Fanatic Wendy Grade = B-
More Realistic Grade = C-
Final Note: Given the plot of this movie it's a given that not everybody is going to walk out alive. Even though the characterizations are mighty thin, I still found myself kind of bummed about that - although who ends up living and who ends up dying is a fairly compelling statement unto itself.