"The Magnificent Seven" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 133 minutes
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Review by: JJ Mortimer
Not so much a film of wrong choices as it is missed opportunities, The Magnificent Seven is a watered-down remake of a remake that unfortunately rushes through its first act of character introductions in order to get to its action-packed, albeit emotionally empty, final set piece.
To justify the remaking of a film, a purpose for its existence must be addressed. In the case of director Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven (a remake of 1960s The Magnificent Seven, which itself was a remake/adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's classic masterpiece Seven Samurai), I never quite got the understanding that this film was made for any purpose other than for our current Hollywood trend of, "Fuck it, reuse a brand name and repackage it to the blind and stupid masses."
There are some good moments in this film, some of which are fun and quirky, while others are dark and almost poignant. But, the main problem with this film is that, despite being named after a group of seven cowboys hired to rid a town of an evil, murderous land baron, we never get to emotionally attach ourselves to these men, and their immediate/rushed-for-the-sake-of-screenplay forming and existence makes no fucking sense whatsoever.
I got the impression that the film makers of The Magnificent Seven didn't know whether to make a legitimate, realistic western, or if they were just out to make an action movie starring characters wearing cowboy hats. Cowboys vs. Aliens portrayed cowboys and the Old West in a more realistic tone and setting, just to give you a comparison.
I start to question why this remake was even a western in the first place. Given the racial diversity of the cast (led by Denzel Washington, and characters including a Mexican, a Comanche, an stereotypical martial-arts Asian, and a few white men with diverse backgrounds), I felt this film should have taken place in a more contemporary time. But given that this remake is again a western, one would think that these themes would be addressed given the setting which, historically, was very unforgiving to people of any color other than white. At first I admired Fuqua's almost immediate dismissal of race relations in order to advance the plot, but then it made me question the legitimacy of its choice of era (and also how thin its plot really is). While the film shied away from even mentioning racial division in the Old West, it still attempted to be accurate in its depiction of Native Americans and Mexicans. So therefore, If this version of The Magnificent Seven wanted to be historically accurate to at least some degree, it needed that one scene where an equal amount of disdain is shown at first toward Denzel Washington's African-American lawman character, and then allowed him to SHOW US why he should be respected, rather than just being told he's a badass. If the film was trying to be realistic, then a scene where a town looks racially down upon him, only to have the other six of his companions come to his support would have been warranted, therefore realistically showing a diverse and color-blind (in a good way) group of men working together. You know - thematically uplifting material with a potential for emotional character building and an ante-up on the impact the loss of a character may have on an audience. In 2016, I'm surprised at this omission of an opportunity to bridge the racial divide.
I really liked a few of the characters. My two favorite were those portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio, the only two characters that seemed to have any real substance. Hawke's character Goodnight Robicheaux, in general, is the only one of the seven given a chance at a character arc and a moment of redemption given his questionable history in the Civil War. D'Onofrio, as Frontiersman Jack Horne, is also engaging and unique, and his scenes (albeit very few) are fun. Chris Pratt brings most of the film's humor and personality, and also has the coolest scene in the movie involving a stick of dynamite, but in the end he's just Chris Pratt with a slight western twang to his voice. Denzel Washington is commanding in his part as always, but a revelation near the end involving his character is hardly set-up and comes out of nowhere, a situation where a simple reaction early on to the speaking of a particular villain's name would have given his moment more gravitas.
The Magnificent Seven is a film that would have benefited from being three hours long and R-rated. The film needed more time with its characters and showing us why exactly these seven men are "magnificent." We also needed to see these men overcome their odds (not just in personality, but in a historically relevant kind of way). It's not such an unjustly comparison to keep bringing up its original Kurosawa source material, because we saw how development time with characters makes for a much stronger impact on the audience when someone falls in battle in that film (which was far more entertaining and nearly twice the length).
The final act of the film, its giant shootout set piece, is action-packed, edited with good flow, and entertaining with moments of greatness sprinkled in that don't quite get as lofty as they should had the characters been given more time with the audience to understand, find motive in, and become emotionally attached to. It veers into Hollywood cheese when all the bad guys essentially become Star Wars Stormtrooper clones instead of flesh-and-blood gunfighters, all of which befall to the "one bullet shot = one kill" notion. In the aftermath, not a single injured man is seen, and every bullet seemed to have immediately killed its target. The film needed a little more grit, or even a shot or two of a man groveling or reacting in pain would have sufficed.
Too often I found myself during my viewing thinking of other films that have done it better with the same amount of screen time and an equal amount of characters to follow. One example is Lawrence Kasdan's superb Silverado, a film written for its characters first and foremost, which lends to action that is more fun, thematically drawn, and ultimately pays off with more impact and audience participation.
Director Antoine Fuqua is one of the most competent action directors working today with a history of solid work, which made it so very confusing to me why he let this film seemingly run on auto pilot without a handle on building its characters, and only getting a handful of details of the Old West right. The dialect seemed off with many of the characters, some of them were too "clean" in their demeanor while others, like Ethan Hawke, looked like they took their roles more seriously and did what they could to look like they belonged in the era. The motives for the seven men to come together made no fucking sense, was entirely rushed, and only one or two moments were ever shown to give me the impression that any of these guys were any better than any two-bit cow hand working in some dust-addled town in Arizona would have been in their situation. Sure, they are a "rag tag" bunch of men wrangled quickly together to help a town under siege, but this film isn't called The Ragtag Seven. They're supposed to be magnificent, damnit.
In the end, I had some fun with this film, but nothing but a couple literal "moments" stood out for me. I found myself filling in my own backstory for some of the characters, and even during the film it made me pine for a viewing of other better westerns. I didn't hate it, but I was disappointed.
The Magnificent Seven is a film where watching the "behind-the-scenes" footage will probably be more compelling than the finished product, mainly because we will get to see the motivation that some of the actors had with their characters, and choices that were made before the film was quickly edited down in order to "get to the action." And sadly, this is one of the final films composer James Horner worked on before his untimely and tragic death. Hints of his work are sprinkled in whenever possible, but the film fills in the gaps with a fill-in composer, and even re-utilizes Elmer Bernstein's work from the 1960 film.
Watch 1954s Seven Samurai instead which hilariously, as of this writing, is being remade as well. When will this shit end??