Monday 10 October 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

A remake of the 1960 classic, The Magnificent Seven is a serviceable western with plenty of stellar action but little depth.

After the Civil War, the small town of Rose Creek is being terrorized by mining tycoon Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his army of hired guns. Bogue is exploiting the surrounding land for gold and kills at random to scare the townsfolk off their farms. After losing her husband to the wave of terror, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) goes looking for mercenaries to push back against Bogue. She stumbles upon warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), and he agrees to help.

Chisolm assembles a group of six other men: gambler Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his sidekick knife expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), frontiersman Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). The seven men quickly eliminate Bogue's guards from Rose Creek, and set about fortifying the town's defences as Bogue plans a massive retaliatory attack with hundreds of men.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, The Magnificent Seven gallops onto the screen with all guns blazing, a western with a predetermined focus to litter the screen with bloodless dead bodies while making seven stars look cool. The one reason for this version to exist is as an update with modern day stars, and Fuqua easily ticks that box with a diverse multi-ethnic cast, and adds a generational range for good measure. Washington is a healthy-looking 61, Martin Sensmeier is about half that, and the seven represent all the major ethnic group that built America.

The gun play and masculine violence is frequent and in traditional Fuqua style builds its way to overwhelming. Almost every other scene, and for some stretches every scene, features men killing other men. Several scenes end with multiple dead bodies decorating the dusty streets, raising concerns about the availability of enough pine boxes and grave diggers to clean up each subsequent mess. The flying bullets and stylish dispatching of bad guys is undeniably fun but also callous, as despite the 133 minutes of running length the film spends very little time providing context, background or humanizing back stories.

The final battle seems to last for about an hour, an all-out orgy of death complete with explosions and a Gatling gun spraying bullets with wild abandon. In an almost perfect example of quantity over quality, Fuqua parks his intentions firmly on the side of sheer numbers making up for the lack of depth. But there are only so many scenes of extras and stuntmen swan diving into death that the brain can absorb, and the film becomes an endless highlight reel where little stands out.

The script provides enough panache and the actors do well with what they have. Washington glides through the film as coolness personified, while Chris Pratt provides most of the animated energy and enjoys by far the best character resolution.

The 1960 version was an ode to the end of an era, gunmen questioning their purpose in life and aware of history closing their chapter. The 2016 version has little time for thoughtful pursuits, just snazzy style: there are hundreds of bad guys to kill, and a kill rate per minute that needs to be maintained.

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