The Magnificent Seven

Posted: October 5, 2016 in Film reviews

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.

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“I told you none of the shops would be open on Sunday!”

 

In the late 19th Century the mining town of Rose Creek is being menaced by evil industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who’s trying to bully the townsfolk into selling their land for a pittance so he can make a fortune. After an outbreak of violence from Bogue’s men leaves several townsfolk dead the widow of one of the victims, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) rides out to find help.

In a nearby town they encounter a warrant officer/bounty hunter named Sam Chisholm (Washington). Emma begs for his help but Chisholm declines, until he learns of Bogue’s involvement. Realising he’ll need men to help he recruits smart mouthed gambler Josh Faraday (Pratt) to his cause. Soon they’re joined by infamous Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawk) and his knife wielding associate Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Chisholm recruits Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) with a promise never to come after him, and they also take on mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). The final member of the seven is a renegade Comanche brave named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

The seven gunfighters ride into Rose Creek and easily despatch the men Bogue left in charge, but Chisholm knows this first battle was only a skirmish. Bogue will be coming, and he’ll be bringing an army with him. Can Chisholm and his men beat the odds, and even if they do how many of the Magnificent Seven will be left alive to tell the tale?

 

And so we get another Hollywood remake, although in fairness it’s hard to be too offended given the 1960 original was itself a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Still it seemed an odd film to remake, if only because westerns seem a trifle old (ten gallon) hat these days, and it has to be said right off the bat that the 2016 remake is a very old fashioned film.

But that’s note remotely a bad thing.

The film reunites Washington and Hawke with their Training Day director Fuqua, albeit this time the two actors aren’t out to kill each other. Washington leads the line well, and for a man who’s now over sixty (yes he really is) he handles the action scenes just as well as the quieter more emotional beats. If he has less fun with the role that’s less to do with his ability as an actor and more to do with having to play the nobler, more stoic leader, a role he excels in. By contrast Hawke gets to throw everything but the kitchen sink at his confederate sharpshooter, a man with a reputation he may no longer be able to live up to, but his role is more than just tics and “yee haws!” and it’s amazing to consider that he’s over fifteen year’s Washington’s junior because he convincingly plays a contemporary.

As Faraday Pratt completes the big name triumvirate at the heart of the Seven, and he’s a lot of fun to watch, but…his character is quite like his character in Jurassic World, and a lot like Star Lord too, and as engaging as he is it would be nice to see if he has another string to his bow beyond smart mouthed and cocky. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of movie stars have thrived on playing essentially the same character, but I hope there’s more to come from him.

The rest of the seven by necessity get less to do, although in fairness each of them gets their moment in the sun, oft times more than one. D’Onofrio in particular gives a peculiarly engaging turn as the mountain man who appears to have spent rather too long on his own in the wilderness. Kudos as well to Lee for making as much as he does from a character that could have just been a.n.other Japanese marital artist. Our Mexican outlaw and Native American team members fare less well sadly. It is difficult when you’ve got seven characters, and in fairness as a men on a mission kind of film these guys are more engaging than the flipping Suicide Squad were. It’s just a shame that, given they’re a much more diverse Seven than the original, there isn’t more nuance to their characters.

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“ma’am, could you not shoot that tree, one of my best friends is a tree.”

But this isn’t a film for nuance. Take Bennett’s plucky gal with a gun or Sarsgaard’s moustache twirling villain, who’ll shoot a henchman just so you know he’s the bad guy. Both are very good though, Bennett handles her action scenes well, it’s just a little distracting how much she looks like Jennifer Lawrence however. As Bogue Sarsgaard doesn’t get much grey, but he does at least imbue his character with wonderful sense of arrogance.

 

So yeah, pretty much everyone in the film is, to a greater or lesser extent, something of a cliché, but this did not dent my enjoyment one bit, if anything it might well have enhanced it. Don’t get me wrong, I like nuance, like shades of grey and stories and characters that aren’t just black and white, but oh my sometimes it’s just a whole lot of fun to watch an old fashioned tale or white hats and black hats, and that’s what this is.

Fuqua has never quite equalled Training Day, but he’s a solid director, especially of action, and the shootouts and battle scenes here are nicely done, not so frantic you can’t see what’s going on but still visceral and exhilarating. My only quibble would be that during the climactic battle one of the Seven seems to go missing only to turn up again later, but that’s a minor quibble given the sheer number of characters. Fuqua also makes excellent use of the landscape and the film’s quite beautiful in places.

I need to mention the music as well, which caught me off guard because I saw James Horner’s name at the start. This was the last film he scored before he passed away, in fact he hadn’t completed it and it had to be finalised by Simon Franglen, it’s a nice tribute to hear some familiar riffs again. There’s hints of Titanic, and whilst it never goes full on 1960, echoes of the classic theme are there for all to hear.

It’s a little too long, a little clichéd (to say the least) and it’s arguable whether it actually adds anything to the original other than providing more diversity, but it’s so well put together and the cast are so engaging that this doesn’t matter nearly as much as it might have with another film. And it has to be said that the film did surprise me in one respect, because if you’d ask me to name who’d live and who’d die before the film started I’d have got it wrong.

It might be a film that ends up forgotten, but while I was watching it I was heartily enjoying it, and at the end of the day that’s the very least one should ask of a film.

Not quite magnificent, but not far off it.

 

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