October 19th, 2016 Film Reviews 0
On paper, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven has all the makings of a fun popcorn flick. The film, which is a reimagining of the 1960s film of the same name — itself a remake of Seven Samurai (1954) — reunites Fuqua with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, the actors from arguably his most acclaimed film, Training Day (2001). It’s story comes from an Akira Kurosawa film, arguably one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. Its genre, The Western, has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, with True Grit (2010), Django Unchained (2012), and The Revenant (2015), among others, showing us that the genre still has life in it. Despite all this, the film does not really do what it sets out to do. Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is not the exuberant, thrilling, or even interesting film it seems to think it is, but rather a lukewarm rehash that’s existence has no real purpose, aside from every remake’s purpose of making easy money. It does not even live up to the adjective in its name.
I can only assume that it is due to this being a remake of a remake that The Magnificent Seven seems to have all the pieces needed for an enjoyable movie, since the story has already been created for it, even if those pieces do not lead up to anything substantial. The film which takes place in the Wild West of the late-1800s, and follows a warrant officer named Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) after he is approached by two townspeople worried for the safety of their town. Chisolm rounds up a group of seven gun-totting miscreants to save the town from the oppression of a rich and sadistic industrialist, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Together, this rag-tag group of heroes need to teach the town to defend itself, complete with the requisite number of shots of cowboys riding horses on mountains, cowboys staring sinisterly at one another, and cowboys holding guns.
While the film is innocuous enough, it’s not hard to long for what it could have been. The cast is full of actors who know their way around a snarky one-liner, but for the most part they all seem to be phoning it in. It’s not hard to be excited by the prospect of Denzel Washington impressively shooting multitudes of bad men, but his performance is more nonchalant than bad-ass. Chris Pratt, who has recently risen to prominence in a number of quip-filled roles, seems to have his usually effortless charm replaced with a sinisterness that, while may be suitable for the character, seemed to ring false when exiting Pratt’s mouth. Ethan Hawke does what he can as the most disturbed member of the group, including an essentially out-of-nowhere meltdown, but the script doesn’t allow for the more nuanced portrayal expected for this type of character. The rest of the seven, made up of Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Byung-hun Lee, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, give good enough performances, it’s just too bad the material did not serve them better.
What I find most troubling is the film’s antagonist and essentially the central conflict the film presents. It’s hard to know what to make of Bogue who, at times, seems more like a cartoon than a real person with genuine motivations. This is not necessarily because of Sarsgaard’s performance, who, like the other actors does what he can with what he is given, but the character comes off feeling like a villain that just relishes the idea of ruining a town full of normal people, which is generally not how real people act. This type of villain may have been acceptable at one time in Hollywood films, but now a more nuanced portrayal is expected, one that shows the audience the reasons for the villain’s actions, or at least some humanity within. The movie is also generally rife with expository dialogue, which is especially obvious in the opening scene of the film where the plot is set up by having Saarsgard dictate his plan. He seems to relish in the chance to kill people who live in the town, without any indication of why this might be. We are eventually given a hint of backstory, but all this does is clarify his (inability to be human). The film presents a pretty cut-and-dry portrayal of good versus evil, and the lack of nuance — specifically with the “evil” characters, who seem to be evil for evil’s sake — is hard to stomach.
The performance issues would be easy to overlook if the exhilarating spectacle that films like this promise was present. Typically, I expect that films that lack subtlety and nuance generally make up for it with an abundance of thrilling moments that keep me on the edge of my seat, or at least immersed in creative imagery and special effects. Unfortunately, even the fight scenes here are half-baked, with over half the movie dedicated to showing us way too many shots of men facing off against each other, to the point where I just sat there wondering “what’s next?”. There are some exciting moments involving what seems like the first iteration of the machine gun, but even these scenes ran long, removing all suspense and replacing it with a vague boredom and desire for the film to end already. The film wanted to service its many players and give them all the standoffs and shootouts it feels they deserve, which may be admirable, but it leaves the film feeling aimless and far too long.
While it may seem, based on this review, that I find The Magnificent Seven to be a film unworthy of viewing, this is not the case. There were many moments where I was able to be sucked in to the world of the movie, where I cared about outcomes and found myself rooting for the Seven. This, however, does not change the fact that I find the film to be unnecessary. It’s not overly harmful, and if someone feels like turning off their mind for a couple of hours, this would not be the worst way to do it. That’s just not what I look for in my movie choices.