Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Film Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I once made a list of my favorite Westerns and a friend of mine pointed out that the biggest problem with my top choices is that the top movies on my list weren't really Westerns.  He said that they were action movies set in the West.

Upon reflection, I think it was a great insight.  I grew up in an era where the Western film was a rarity.  In the '80's, action movies were the most exciting genre you could see in the theaters.  Successful Western films tended to mold themselves mostly in that style.  That is why I found myself gravitating to Westerns like Young Guns and Tombstone rather than Academy Award-winning Unforgiven.

I bring this all up front of my review for The Magnificent Seven in order to explain my response to this film.

Directer Antoine Fuqua brings to the screen a fairly entertaining remake of the classic Western starring Yule Brenner and Steve McQueen.  The story revolves around a small town of Rose Creek.  The settlers of this small town are being pushed out by the evil mining baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).  When her husband is killed by Bogue has her husband murdered, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennet) seeks to hire fighters to defend them.  She hires the cool-as-ice bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington).  Chisolm then assembles a patchwork rogues to help out Rose Creek:
-charming and deadly gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt
-legendary marksman Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his blade-throwing friend Billy (Lee Byung-hun)
-wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo)
-wild-man tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio)
-Indian warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier)

Together they must work together to survive the coming onslaught.

A movie like this lives or dies by the cast and the chemistry.  And for the most part it works.  Washington is outstanding as always as the leading man.  His natural charisma makes his ability to pull such disparate types of men to a common cause a believable feat.  As much as I love Yule Brenner in the original, I am confident in saying Washington is an improvement.  He has all the gravitas of his age but the energy of a young man.  Pratt also does his best Han Solo/Star Lord take on his Old West outlaw.  Hawke actually brings a very layered and nuanced performance as the killer/coward.  Byung-Hun and Sensmeier bring a strong, cool stoicism.  Aand D'Onofrio and Garcia Rulfo add a bit of madman edge.  Sarsgaard chews the scenery, but always remains engaging.   Bennet also brings along a strong presence that rivals even the most seasoned actors in this group.

But while the performances are good, the chemistry of characters could be better.  The script builds in several "dude-bonding" scenes that are meant to be funny.  Yet they often feel a little too forced, as if the movie is screaming at you: "See!  See!  They're joking with each other so now they are like brothers!"

And it is when the movie veers away from the more action-oriented moments to these dramatic or comedic scenes that the film drags a bit.

Which is a shame because the action sequences are exciting and fantastic.  Each of the actors gets to shine in their own particular way as they fight tooth-and-nail.  Fuqua nails these scenes and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

There were several interesting changes made from the original.  The most noticeable one is the racial one.  Instead of a Mexican village being raided by roaming Mexican bandits, the village is made of mostly white people with a white villain.  And in the remake, the heroes are a veritable United Nations made up of white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American members.  For most intents and purposes, it makes not impact to the quality of the story.  But there is one area that became problematic.

The main villain, Bogue, enters the film by crashing an Rose Creek assembly at the local church.  For some reason he goes off on an insane speech about how capitalism is willed by God.  It felt like such a direct social justice sermon demonizing capitalism.  It set the film off on an incredibly odd political note that I wasn't quite able to shake.

But overall the changes are good.  Because Fuqua does not slavishly follow the original, he is able to throw in a number of surprises.  This keeps the story fresh and sometimes shocking.

The Magnificent Seven is an enjoyable film that could have been better.  But for what it is, it is an enjoyable Western adventure.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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