This remake from director Antoine Fuqua, and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, sticks fairly close to the plot of the original from 1960. This is a steady and solid remake of the classic Western with a winning cast of characters. Jennifer Lawrence is on board as a young widow who is determined to rid her town of the villainous gang of outlaws running roughshod over the citizens. The old formula still holds: the town under siege, heroes riding in to save the day, upholding the values of the West while instilling revenge and righteous fury to right the wrongs they see. The audience seeks closure in the denouement, which is the ritual gunfight, or as it stands now, the gun battle. Finally the balance of the Universe is restored when right triumphs over overwhelming might.
Denzel Washington is one good reason to watch this film. Ethan Hawke is equally up to the challenge playing a broken but not bowed anti-hero role. There’s not much more to add as there is new ground broken here in movie history, but the storytelling elements of the film hold it together. Unlike the unfortunate Ben Hur remake, there is a cohesive plot to follow…thus making this film imminently more watchable. And for moviegoers hankering for the return of a good old-fashioned Western, this film delivers.
Chris Pratt may be slightly miscast with some of his comic asides delivering touches of awkward comic relief. When the character is a natural fit for a Western, as was the case for an actor like Steve McQueen, who starred in the original, it’s always hard to compare the performances. But as a whole this film, set firmly in the category long neglected in Hollywood of a pure Western movie, fits the bill nicely.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the greatest westerns of all time, and it was made at a time when westerns were definitely on the decline. This is actually a funny movie. Most of the film is a comedy, with Paul Newman delivering one of the best comic performances of his career as the amiable outlaw Butch Cassidy. Robert Redford’s breakout performance as the Sundance Kid, plus the very real onscreen chemistry of the two leads, resulted in a generation of “buddy” films where two guys were paired together in various action roles.
But the unexpected bonus of this classic is the masterful direction by George Roy Hill. He had a flawless script by William Goldman, and two A-list actors to work with, but the film could easily have been forgettable in a less talented directors’ hands. Hill used a classic old-time musical score, arranged by composer Burt Bacharach, which permeated the entire film with an essence of nostalgia for a time long past. And his ability to weave the storyline through various scenes of the gorgeous Old West landscape interwoven with tight close ups of the gorgeous actors and their often hilarious dialogue was pure genius.
In my book, 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village, I wrote of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”:
“Considered by many Hollywood insiders to be the best screenplay ever written, this film originally included some scenes that were reportedly scrubbed because Paul Newman couldn’t say the lines without laughing. Yet this is a poignant film at times that focuses on two real-life outlaws on the run for their crimes. The parts we remember most vividly are those that give the movie the aura of a “buddy” picture, than an action-adventure comedy, and finally a western very much of the sixties.
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid airs Sunday, January 17th & Wednesday, January 20th. The film is playing at select theatres in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies.