Film review – The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven
Director Antoine Fuqua teams up with Denzel Washington once again for this re-telling of The Magnificent Seven (the 1960 version itself a remake of the Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai).
Washington takes on Yul Brynner’s iconic man-in-black character; here playing Sam Chisolm, who gathers together a rag-tag group in order to help the residents of a small town fight back against those determined to drive them off their land.
The story itself differs to the 1960 version in many ways. For instance, instead of the residents being from a Mexican village, they are from a small American town. Instead of bandits raiding their village, the residents are being terrorised by Peter Sarsgaard’s mining company. The biggest difference is perhaps with the characters, though, as Washington’s Chisolm recruits a diverse bunch of individuals who all sign up to the mission for different personal reasons. Each of their names and back-stories are also different from their 1960 counterparts, and as such so are the relationships and dynamics amongst them.
Fuqua, who has arguably never bettered Training Day (although I did love Southpaw) begins his version delivering what he does best; a sense of drama and violence. Indeed, no sooner does the film begin that we are rattled by a series of explosions. These are evidently caused by the mining company going about its business, but they serve as the foundations for the violence and action that is to come. We soon meet the villain of the piece, superbly played by Sarsgaard who somehow manages to convey a restrained yet maniacal, unhinged menace. He outlines (or rather reaffirms) his intentions to the townsfolk with great intimidation, leading to a gunfight which results in Haley Bennett and companion Luke Grimes searching for help.
It’s certainly a captivating start and rolls along at pace. However, at over two hours long, this pace was unfortunately unsustainable as Washington sets out to recruit his ‘magnificent’ companions. It’s a slow middle section whilst we are introduced to each of the group. Some have more screen time than others, yet this does not necessarily correspond with the amount of character development they each receive. Chris Pratt’s Faraday, for example, has quite the extensive introduction, yet we learn little of his character or background. On the other hand, it is implied that Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux is something of a legend, and we learn that he is psychologically suffering as a result of his past. He also has a strong friendship with one of the other Seven, and whilst all of these aspects of his character are briefly touched upon, they too remain underdeveloped. This is more than can be said for some of the others, though, such as Martin Sensmeier’s Native American who is practically shoehorned in. It’s a frustrating and inconsistent period as we slowly meet each member one by one, all of whom proving difficult to relate to or care much about.
Thankfully, the final third picks up where the first left off; the gang setting about making their mark in the town and ruffling lots of feathers, leading to an epic onslaught from Sarsgaard’s hired guns. Explosions, Gatling guns, bow and arrows, snipers, close-range combat and a lot of pistols all make for an absolutely relentless sequence of events, superbly constructed by Fuqua who never lets up on the action or violence (it actually reminded me of the recently released World War 2 drama, Anthropoid, in which the final third also depicts a bombardment on the ‘good guys’, holed up in a church, by the gunfire of the army outside).
It’s undoubtedly the reward of the piece, so much so that it makes the first two thirds almost forgettable. However, what follows is a rather flat closing which sadly serves as a reminder of the various flaws of the picture.
The biggest of these is that, despite the differences between this and the 1960 version, it is little more than a Western cliché. We have the close-ups of the eyes made iconic by Clint Eastwood, a saloon full of people stopping to turn and look at the stranger at the swinging doors. We have the inept Sherriff, a Comanche vs Comanche fight and even people riding off into the sunset. Worst of all is perhaps the brief role of a character named Billy Two Guns.
As a result of the abundance of clichés it’s hard to work out whether or not Fuqua was intentionally being diverse in his casting or not. It should certainly be applauded that a black lead and actors of Native American, Mexican and Asian descent were all given such prominent roles, but it could be argued that they simply provided the stereotypes of their respective races so often seen throughout the genre during the 20th Century. Indeed, one would be forgiven in thinking that Fuqua had a checklist of characters formed as a result of watching too many Westerns. Aside from the aforementioned we also have Chris Pratt’s Faraday as a card-sharp, Hawke’s Robicheaux as the war veteran and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne as a mountain-man.
Clichés and stereotypes aside, there are plenty of solid performances here. Of the main Seven, Hawke stood out playing perhaps the most complex of the characters (albeit underdeveloped) and even though Pratt was essentially playing the same role as that from Guardians of the Galaxy, he has a screen presence and delivery that suggests he will soon be cementing a position of one of Hollywood’s leading men.
Hayley Bennett deserves an awful lot of praise, too. Her role is pivotal to several elements of the plot and she conveys a character filled with fight, bravery, stubbornness and determination which she portrays overtly in order to hide her grief and fear. In such a male dominated film, it’s extremely refreshing to see such a strong female character hold her own amongst them and of course to see a young actress do the same amongst some of Hollywood’s heavyweights.
A fantastic score by the late James Horner; still in progress at the time of his death last year and then completed by his friend, Simon Franglen; helped add to the frantic action and also lift the slower elements of the film. The performances and chemistry amongst the main cast added a healthy dose of humour, and the action was fantastic.
For some, this may be enough to make The Magnificent Seven a rollicking, no-brainer, thrill-ride of a Western. For me, though, whilst there is certainly plenty here to be enjoyed, it loses its way with an overlong running time, poor characterisation, inconsistent pacing and a cliché-laden nod to the genre.