“It won’t sweeten. It’ll only sour”
Do yourself a favor and see Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai or even John Sturges’ modest 1960 feature rather than heading out to the cinema for Antoine Fuqua’s misguided modern remake of a venerated classic. Is The Magnificent Seven entertaining? I’d reluctantly argue so despite the inflated length and laundry list of issues tarnishing a film that just looks way too clean to be a real western. The drama is staged, the interactions choreographed, its dialogue violates the rules of screenwriting 101. The sight and sound of blanks might be amusing, but that doesn’t necessarily equate The Magnificent Seven to a visceral diversion.
The Magnificent Seven concerns itself, quite admirably, with a township’s protest over the privatized industrialization of their one lane city. They resist the oppressive bureaucracy being imposed on them by slumlord Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). He’s a thinly sketched curmudgeon, wanting to harvest their gold mine and exert his sweeping gran gestures of reproof. Bogue is meant to be the main antagonist, but he shares no qualities with any of the numerous protagonists, creating a greater distance and separation from an already severed story. His threat feels imminent – he’s set to return and take the town in mere weeks – and yet hardly threatening. Bogue’s sinister agenda is more conducive to gunfire than it is to tense and personal drama.
Determined to save the city is Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) who has lost her husband at the hands of Bogue’s point-blank pistol. And so she begs bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) for help, saying that if she cannot seek righteousness she’ll settle for revenge. His own history with Bogue drives him into team assembly mode. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), as quick to draw from his holster as he is to down a whiskey, joins to reclaim his horse. Then come sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and the butchering Asian assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Rounding out the heptad are Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Comanche Indiana Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). It’s all well and good that these men collectively seek justice and even train the citizen’s army to face Bogue’s battalion, but Chisolm is the only one with a trace of motivation. Risking their lives for no reward seems to be a decision made out of boredom rather than retribution.
The Magnificent Seven looks like an old recycled Western. Mangy, rough around the edges, neglected. What’s most absent though is personality. These men have a sporadic, once in blue moon type of camaraderie. Since the majority of their interactions rely on humdingers and insults, we’re only allowed to invest very little towards their sacrificial plight because they’re shaped and shrink-wrapped individually. Therefore, the dividends and rewards are a minuscule payout. A stronger script and more thoughtful direction would have proved enough to understand these rogues as they understand one another, identifying each man as he belongs within the band and not outside of it. However, Fuqua remains focused on diverting our attention without ever truly grabbing it. He shoots from too many angles and gathers too much coverage, which makes John Refoua’s job editing the movie together a continuity nightmare. Fuqua’s last few films have shown an inability to direct coherent action sequences. Here’s to hoping he delves back into the world of drama, or at the very least, shelves his growing penchant for blasts and bombast.
“Consider this a recall.”
Rating: 2 out of 5