Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)
“Justice has a number.”
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
Synopsis: Seven gunman unite to protect townsfolk from a cruel mine-owner intent on throwing them off their land.
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Antoine Fuqua’s version of John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven sees the bald Russian quietly replaced by a man of dignity and grace whose skin colour matches the iconic outfit that is one of the few relics to survive the passage of fifty-six years. Is it the colour of his skin, or his profession as bounty hunter that perturbs the residents of the town into which he rides? Richard Wenk and Nicolas Pizzolatto’s screenplay is deliberately ambiguous about quite why the women clutch their children to their sides as Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington – 2 Guns, The Equalizer) passes by. Even the lowlifes in the local saloon couch their prejudices in bland metaphors – “We don’t serve that brand,” the bartender pointedly observes when Chisolm asks for a particular whisky. While it’s no bad thing that racism has largely been eradicated, the fact that, as far as Hollywood is concerned, it will no longer even be a thing of the past is just a little worrying…
The townsfolk of another community, a place called Rose Creek, live under the brutal regime of gold mine owner Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard – Robot & Frank), a man so ‘tache-twirlingly evil he might as well have the word Black in front of his name. Bogue has given the timid townsfolk three weeks to sign over their land to him for a paltry sum or suffer the same fate as the husband of the newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett – The Equalizer, Hardcore Henry), who embarks on a quest for a saviour even as she grieves. A plea is made to Chisolm, and he responds.
He rounds up a multicultural crew that is even more motley (if less cool) than the one assembled by Chris Larabee Adams two generations ago. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt – 10 Years) is a semi-drunken card sharp who confuses diminutive horse traders for hypnagogic leprechauns; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke – Cymbeline, Born to be Blue) is a sharpshooter whose courage has deserted him, and who’s accompanied by an Oriental (Byung-Hun Lee) with a collection of deadly hairpins. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche who eats raw venison flesh, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican villain on the run, and Jack Horne (Vincent d’Onofrio – The Judge, Run All Night) is a mountainous, well, mountain man who stamps on the head of those who try to cheat him. To be honest, they sound like a much more interesting bunch than they actually are, largely because, like their counterparts from 1960, they each suffer from a lack of screen time in which to develop their characters.
It’s noticeable that, although Fuqua’s version of The Magnificent Seven bears only a passing resemblance to Sturges’, it somehow retains all of the weaknesses that prevent the 1960 movie from being a bona fide classic. Not only does it struggle to prevent each member of the Seven from being little more than the physical embodiment of some cultural or societal attribute, it drags badly in its second act, and features a preliminary skirmish between the Seven and their adversaries which is far more tense and effective than the final shoot-out. Fuqua’s handling of the climactic showdown is far more fluid than Sturges’ but the confrontation between the leader of the Seven and his opposite number once again proves to be a major anti-climax. Perhaps worst of all, though, is the way that Fuqua withholds the iconic theme music from us until the final credits sequence, thus robbing his movie of the epic sweep and grandeur it so desperately requires.
(Reviewed 27th September 2016)