Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven

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In the old West, a woman hires a ragtag bunch of seven men to defend her town from a villainous mining baron and his private army.

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Antoine Fuqua, 2016

The mining town of Rose Creek is completely at the mercy of sadistic mining baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgard). Using his army of mercenaries and the sheriff and marshals that he has bought off, Bogue tries to menace the town’s inhabitants into giving him their land, murdering anyone who stands up to him. Fed up after the death of her husband, fiery (you know because of her super fake red hair dye job) Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) heads out of town to find help. She finds determined warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Initially unmoved by Emma’s pleas, Sam eventually agrees to help in exchange for all of Emma’s money. He gathers together a team of skilled outlaws and outcasts: card shark Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt); former Civil War sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his friend, knife-thrower Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); bonkers tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio); Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier); and Mexican criminal Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). The reluctant allies become friends as they prepare the residents of Rose Creek to make their final stand against Bogue.

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I have a feeling that this version of Magnificent Seven is going to look terribly dated in twenty years. Antoine Fuqua is definitely a director with decidedly modern sensibilities. The overly crisp, heavily contrasted look of this latest Magnificent Seven looks nice, but it just doesn’t suit the Old West setting. Having said that, the gorgeous look of the film’s scenery sustained my interest for this film’s excessive run time. It moves along well enough, but it’s rarely surprising. The film’s heroine Emma Cullen is mercifully spared a love interest after her ridiculously handsome husband (played by Matt Bomer) dies in the opening scene; she’s not given much to do, and the actress isn’t the best, but she does get to kick some butt. Peter Sarsgard chews up the scenery but isn’t in the film enough; he leaves most of the villainry to his henchmen, like the way-too-modern-looking Cam Gigandet. The lack of his presence drives down the tension, which is unfortunate as tension is one of the things this film sorely needs more of. The quick introductions of most of the characters also make it hard to find people to really connect to in the film; Fuqua relies too much on his leads’ charms and not enough on writing to get that job done.

It’s safe to say that the seven are not all equal in the film’s eyes. Of the group, Red Harvest and Vasquez ironically get the least to do. The heroes of the film are Chris Pratt, doing his best, slightly uneven Starlord-in-the-Old West, and Denzel Washington, whose character development comes too late in the film for us to be fully engaged by him. His most interesting moment is when he befriends Red Harvest; after that, Red Harvest gets precisely one moment of characterisation. Vincent D’Onofrio is almost unwatchably weird as Jack Horne; the voice he puts on his hilariously off-putting. By far the best relationship-building, character development, and arcs are devoted to Robicheaux and Billy. Ethan Hawke is at exactly the right stage in his career to be a proper “character actor”, doing far better here as the film’s most interesting character than he did as a leading man. Robicheaux is a PTSD-stricken civil war vet, alternating between swaggering and skittish. His relationship with Billy Rocks takes on interesting developments throughout the film, and Byung-hun Lee is gorgeous as the loyal, knife-throwing badass. There’s a much more interesting movie to be had in their adventures prior to this version of the classic “seven samurai” structure. The conceit lives and dies on a) tension and b) good characters; this effort is hit and miss on both counts. It has its fun moments, and it looks good, but ultimately it’s muddled and misses the mark.

The Magnificent Seven on IMDb

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