Film Review – The Magnificent Seven (2016)
The Magnificent Seven
I’m pretty sick of reboots and remakes and re-imaginings and re-quals. Just hire some writers, movie people! I hear they have ideas and stuff. Okay, whatever. Let’s talk about Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, which is a remake of the 1960 John Sturges film, which in turn is a re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 movie The Seven Saumurai. Given my hatred of re-dos, why did I want to review this? I like Westerns. I like Denzel Washington. I like the two previous versions. (Although I haven’t seen them for a while, so I felt somewhat fresh coming to this.) How bad could it be? Well, I guess it could have been much, much worse.
Rose Creek is a town in trouble. It is under the thumb of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) an industrialist who takes both land and lives with impunity. After witnessing Bogue’s murder of her husband, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett – who, at the risk of losing my sad, cynical hipster movie reviewer cred by admitting I care, played Cora Corman in Music and Lyrics; a movie I deeply love even though I know Hugh Grant is a lame-o.) sets off to hire some men to take him down. In spite of the seeming impossibility of the task, she manages to find a taker: erstwhile lawman and bounty hunter Chisolm (Denzel Washington.) He accepts her proposition for reasons known only to himself, and they eventually recruit six other men: Drunken gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Former Confederate soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Asian knife-thrower Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Texican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). They return to Rose Creek, kill a bunch of Bogue’s people, and must then prepare the citizens willing to remain for the inevitable retaliation.
I don’t know; it’s okay. The performances are all really good, and the fight scenes are very clear about what is happening. If you like movies with no character development and 30-minute battle scenes, then this might be the film for you. I generally don’t care for Ethan Hawke, but he was really good here, and Byung-hun Lee was a lot of fun to watch. All the actors did a very good job with what they had. But there’s just not much else here. There are a few funny moments, but for the most part, the film is dry and humorless, even during the ‘let’s go gather the gang” section, which would have been a great place to insert some reasons for us to care about their fates.
The film also isn’t really about anything other than “dudes are hired to save a town.” That’s it. There’s nothing else there to give the story some depth. There is some heavy-handed anti-unfettered-capitalism sentiment in the opening scenes: before burning down a church, Bogue makes it clear that capitalism is the American god, and he is only following his religion by turning their farmland into useless dust. It’s a legit criticism by the filmmakers, but pointless to the following narrative. He’s just crazy bad and needs to be stopped. It could have been for any reason.
If there is subtext in this movie, it’s that Haley Bennett has boobs. We know this because every outfit she wears is especially designed to make sure we do. No other non-saloon-girl in the movie wears such low-cut blouses, but since we don’t actually see any other women very often, they don’t really matter. Her boobs are very brave though. Another interesting possible piece of subtext in this movie is that only white characters are worth interesting back-stories. Josh Faraday, Goodnight Robicheaux, and Jack Horne all have quirks, fleshed out histories, and fairly complex motivations. Billy Rocks, Vasquez, and Red Harvest are bodies that show up to fight. (Billy Rocks has a few good moments, but is given no real story.) Denzel Washington is the star of the damn film, but he’s not got much to do other than say “Hi, let’s go kill people.” I am guessing none of this was intentional, but subtext doesn’t always come from the things you do on purpose. It’s often there because of the things you forgot. I saw some ranting on the internets about the ruinous multicultural casting of this film. Don’t worry racists, white stories still take precedence here.
There are a lot of people who die in this film, and it doesn’t make us care about any of it. TONS of people die to free this town, but they are simply fodder for the camera. I actually got bored during the final battle scene, which is not how I want to feel during the culminating moments of a movie. The Magnificent Seven is okay, but I would never want to watch it again, and I can’t really recommend it to anybody who is looking for more than the most mindless entertainment. It does have some of the most laughable final words I’ve seen in a while, so I guess there’s that.