“The Magnificent Seven” Movie Review


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     There’s nothing new or original about director Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven”, which is no surprise considering the film is itself a remake of the classic 1960 film of the same name.  In fact, this latest version is such a by the numbers kind of production, that you can literally predict each and every scene before they occur on screen, whether you have seen the original film or not.  That’s a shame, because as a filmmaker, Antoine Fuqua is one of the top talents in Hollywood right now, but here it seems the studio may have cut him at the knees, stopping him from telling the story the way I’m almost certain he would’ve intended.  

     You know Fuqua already for his gritty, violent style of storytelling in films such as “Training Day” (2001), “Shooter” (2007), and “The Equalizer” (2014), but the stark realism displayed in those films is all but absent in “The Magnificent Seven”, likely a result of the curious PG13 rating. Fuqua works from a script written by frequent collaborator Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer”) and “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto, the later of which is a surprise given how bland the proceedings are from scene to scene.  “The Magnificent Seven” achieves neither the clever dialogue and characterization of Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, nor does it display the bravado of a film like “Tombstone”.

     Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  An evil rich white man, accompanied by an army of nefarious no gooders, feeds on a small town’s resources at the expense of its people and forces them to pay up or suffer certain death.  As their only recourse, the town hires a drifter to defend them, who bands together a small group of gunfighters to fight against the evil doers in the name of righteousness.  Sounds like virtually every Western I’ve ever seen, which is what made films like “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight” such enjoyable experiences, as they dared to take the genre in a different direction.  The only thing Fuqua really achieves here is the obvious updating of the original film to reflect the expectations of today’s mainstream audiences.

     In doing so, the seven would be protectors now represent virtually every demographic in our population.  Not that it’s a bad thing, but could the strategy here be more obvious?  Led by Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a Warrant Officer charged with hunting down bad guys and bringing them to justice, the group includes legendary gunfighter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his Asian partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Mexican gunfighter with a price on his head named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), an Indian who joins the group named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a mountain man named Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), and rounding out the seven is the appropriately wise cracking gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt).  Together, they must find a way to defend against an army led by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who along with his henchmen are responsible for a litany of dastardly deeds including killing those in the town of Rose Creek who dare to uprise against him.

     With such a fine cast, you would expect each of them to be given ample moments to show the chops that made them stars, but the script fails them in nearly every scene.  While many of us can endlessly quote “Tombstone” and identify with several of the film’s key characters, this version of “The Magnificent Seven” contains not a single memorable or juicy line for actors like Washington or Pratt to sink their teeth into.  On the flip side however, Fuqua is no slouch when directing an action sequence and he does a great job both with the initial skirmish, as well as the final battle in creating tension and suspense as the situations unfold.  In fact, it is the action sequences that remain the most unpredictable portions of the film, which doesn't bode well for the overall product, but does say something about Fuqua’s talent and skill.

     What’s missing is the emotional resonance necessary to really capture an audience and hold their attention during the film’s lengthy set up.  Running 132 minutes, “The Magnificent Seven” spends an enormous amount of time on the recruitment process and yet still manages to tell us very little about each character and what exactly motivates them to join the group on what is known to be a harrowing and dangerous mission.  While Pratt seems a little out of place, due mostly to the fact I can’t get his Star-Lord character out of my mind, Washington carries the film with his trademark ultra cool and calm delivery, but he never really is given anything that will really grab you as an audience member in the way many of his characters have consistently done in the past.  I understand the need to be able to market a known property, but Fuqua and Washington probably would’ve been better off showing us their take on the Western with an original offering instead of being restrained by overused material produced in 1960.  GRADE: C