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[Review] – ‘The Magnificent Seven’

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 23 September 2016
 
Director: Antoine Fuqua
 
Writer: Richard Wenk, Nic Pizzolatto, based on screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto & Hideo Iguni
 
Cast: Denzel Washington - Chris Pratt - Peter Sarsgaard - Ethan Hawke - Vincent D’Onofrio - Byung Hun-Lee - Manuel Garcia-Rulfo - Martin Sensmeier - Haley Bennett - Matt Bomer
 
Direction
 
 
 
 
 


 
Writing
 
 
 
 
 


 
Performance
 
 
 
 
 


 
Sound & Music
 
 
 
 
 


 
Cinematography
 
 
 
 
 


 
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Visual Effects
 
 
 
 
 


 
Total Score
 
 
 
 
 
3.5/5


User Rating
1 total rating

 


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Posted October 5, 2016 by

 
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Review:

The remake of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ benefits from its ‘can’t fail’ story structure. A small community is need of help from a force better resourced and more powerful than itself. It makes a demand of a principled stranger who recruits a number of others to assist him. We are hooked in expectation of the final, singular confrontation between good and evil.

Within such a structure, you can do a heck of a lot. You can define the desires of ‘evil’ any way you choose. You can develop the motivations of the heroes who are recruited to help. You can explore the aftermath in an interesting way. As we know from Iraq or Libya, just because you have captured or killed the bad guy, it doesn’t mean that your problems are over.

The disappointment of the film, for the most part aesthetically anaemic to appeal to the widest possible audience – it is director Antoine Fuqua’s first PG-13 rated film – is in its conservative nature. The seven help for no better reason than the desire of their leader, Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) to avenge the killing of his mother and sister. The seven characters are barely explored. We view them as a set of entertaining misfits united by a common goal.

What paralyses writers Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto is the word ‘magnificent’: the heroes have to be essentially decent and heroic, ready to die for their cause. Actually, you never think that any of the characters – gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife-slinger Billy Rocks (Byung Hun-Lee), lone Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), rifle-man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the Mexican Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) – are willing to die. They are riding their luck, secure in their own abilities.

The descriptor could have been used ironically. To quote another movie line, they might not be the best of the best, but the ‘best of what’s left’ (‘Hot Shots Part Deux’). However, none of the heroes is seeking redemption; they are there for the ride – and a share of the villagers’ funds. At the end of the film, there is no talk of money or what has been lost. There is a token acknowledgement; Fuqua can’t get to the end credits quickly enough.

There is an altruistic reason why we don’t get much character development – Fuqua and his writers do not want to tip us off as to who might live or die. The downside is that we don’t feel the losses as keenly as we might; there is no ‘The Force Awakens’ moment.

Is the film entertaining? To a point, yes! There is something satisfying about Denzel Washington being introduced walking through the shimmering desert directly towards the camera like the Man with No Name or any number of western icons (you can’t do that shimmer in an urban setting). Chisholm, the name borrowed un-ironically from a John Wayne character – and Washington and Wayne as far apart politically as two men could ever be – is a duly sworn warrant officer who hunts down fugitives from justice. He’s essentially a bounty hunter, whose profession directs people away from his race. Washington has both physical magnetism and moral authority, both of which are tested in the final confrontation with Bogue. He is contrasted with the joie de vivre of Faraday, Chris Pratt mining his talent for light comedy.

Essentially, ‘Mag7’ to give the film its hash-tag title, is a mismatched buddy movie with five other characters on the periphery. Washington and Pratt appear in most of the scenes. Washington is used to obviate the possibility of an on-screen romance with the widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) who hires him on behalf of the village. We know from Washington’s back catalogue that he does not do mixed-race relationships.

Of the other characters, Robicheaux is an anomaly. He signs up to fight, yet has lost his appetite and skill at killing people. It could be that of the cast, only Ethan Hawke demanded a character to play. If this is the case, it is ironic, since Hawke has essentially being playing the same urban slacker artist for over twenty years.

The film blends comedy and tension in a diverting way. We enjoy Billy Rocks’ failed attempt to teach the town people how to handle knives. D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne clearly has psychological issues. At times, he resembles the character the actor played in Chained. Red Harvest’s reason for being is to defend the reputation of his people, squaring up against a Native American in the villain’s ranks. The implications of his choice – how does one best save a dying people – are not explored.

Early on, we hear explosions. Bogue’s mining operation suggests the contemporary threat from fracking. The frequent explosions remind us of a distant war – shades of Syria. But the plot hinges on a silly contrivance. Bogue brazenly burns down a church and kills defenceless innocents and says he’ll be back in 21 days to compulsorily purchase the villagers’ land. But in the real world, he would have done it there and then.

‘The Magnificent Seven’s only reason for being is that it is a recognisable brand; the western equivalent of ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ or ‘Kelly’s Heroes’, a star vehicle. Modern equivalents – and I claim no originality in pointing this out – are ‘The Avengers’ movies and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. It is a film that celebrates uncomplicated but ultimately unconvincing heroism. It is bland and unlike its contemporary equivalents not designed for multiple viewings. It also lacks a commanding female character. Emma may take up the gun, but for the most part the film doesn’t discuss the village’s suspicion of her in hiring gunslingers on their behalf. The lack of ambition makes it slightly depressing. If this is the best that a Hollywood studio can do in racially turbulent times, then I’m happy to prefer the independent sector. (Overall rating: three stars ‘worth watching’).

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Larry Oliver
@LarryOliverFilm
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