Mark Reviews Movies

The Magnificent Seven (2016)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Luke Grimes, Peter Sarsgaard

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material)

Running Time: 2:12

Release Date: 9/23/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 22, 2016

The distinct rhythm of Elmer Bernstein's timeless theme to 1960's The Magnificent Seven can be heard amidst the score of this new iteration of the story. It's played, though, by a monotone wind instrument, meaning that it is only the rhythm that we hear—hollow and without the music. This, unfortunately, turns out to be an apt metaphor for director Antoine Fuqua's version of The Magnificent Seven. It hits the same beats, but the melody is missing.

This is, of course, the point in any writing about this adaptation of the story that one must go through its history. John Stuges' original film wasn't original at all. It was based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai from six years prior, and the Americanized remake followed the same plot—about a town that hires mercenaries to defeat a threat—and retained most of the characters' personalities (as well as almost all of their respective introductions), while transferring the action from feudal Japan to the American territories and Mexico of Western lore.

Obviously, the point that follows logically is that Sturges' film is not some sacred tome that must remain untouched. Such an attitude about remakes would mean that we wouldn't have the 1960 film in the first place. That one worked because it was faithful to its origin yet clever in its shift of locale, and there's no denying that it helps to have a cast filled with as many charismatic and prototypically macho actors as that one possessed.

The casting of Fuqua's adaptation is, perhaps, its most significant coup. As some wonder where our movie stars have gone, here are Denzel Washington, as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, and Chris Pratt, as card-trick enthusiast/gambler/heavy-drinker Josh Faraday, leading a team of gunslingers that is filled with actors that are as diverse in appearance as they are in approach.

There's Ethan Hawke, playing a former Confederate sharpshooter nicknamed Goodnight who is haunted by the men who ended up on the other end of his rifle's sights, and there's Vincent D'Onofrio, playing the team's strongman Jack Horne—a former bounty hunter of Native Americans whose work is no longer needed by the U.S. government. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays a Mexican outlaw named Vasquez, who takes the job to get the best bounty hunter in the territories off his back. South Korean star Byung-hun Lee plays Billy, a quiet, reserved warrior who's adept with blades, and relative newcomer Martin Sensmeier plays the counterpoint to the D'Onofrio character—Comanche warrior Red Harvest, who is seeking his own path away from his tribe and is accepted by the team.

The screenplay by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto doesn't linger on the cultural distinctions (or, in the case of Haley Bennett as a tough-as-nails and sure-shot resident of the town in peril, gender ones). It possesses a cosmopolitan attitude about this time and place that is too fascinating to feel anachronistic (The writers address the prejudices of the time, but once the characters have their place here, they keep it without question).

What's missing is a distinct sense of personality from each of these characters. There are the broadest of strokes here, although most of them focus more on the characters' respective skills than anything else. All of them are stoic and prone to throw out a joke or two—but only if the screenplay allows them to do the latter (Billy and Red Harvest in particular exist to look stern and determined at every turn). Strangely, every performer seems to be doing his own thing to different levels of effectiveness (Washington gets by with his demeanor, Pratt works a joker but doesn't as a tough guy, and Hawke stands out as the conscience-stricken exception to the rest of the players). Fuqua never establishes a sense of camaraderie, although he does try to force it with various shots of the team lined up in widescreen.

The plot, more or less, remains the same, as the population of a Western town is threatened by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), a robber baron who wants to expand his mining operation into the town by any means necessary (He's the sort of villain who makes grand speeches about unfettered capitalism and kills the messenger because he can). The seven assemble, plan a defense, and train the townsfolk to fight.

It all builds to a climactic battle in and around the town that feels almost apocalyptic in its level of violence and destruction. In a sequence that caters more to chaos than to strategy, the seven get their individual shows of talent (Chisolm hangs from his saddle while shooting and, in a ridiculous moment, plows his horse through a storefront—although Horn tops it by tackling a horse). Explosions are plentiful, and by the time the bad guys bring out a Gatling gun, the entire exercise, set against charred and bullet-ridden edifices, becomes a disheartening slog of violence for the sake of something approaching nihilism. There's Pyrrhic victory, and then there's whatever meaningless win that The Magnificent Seven tries to sell.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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