UK Release Date: 23rd September 2016
Runtime: 133 minutes
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Byung-hun Lee, Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matt Bomer
Synopsis: Seven outlaws are assembled by a poor town to defend them against a violent businessman who is holding their lives to ransom.
Originality has been at the core of the recent boom in cinematic westerns, from the meandering Slow West to the distinctly modern Hell or High Water. With that in mind, it was disappointing to see the genre succumb to the remake trend for The Magnificent Seven. A premiere cast soon assembled, though, alongside reliable action director Antoine Fuqua, promising an interesting, diverse take on a classic of cinema. Unfortunately, the film falls off its horse very quickly.
Warrant officer Sam (Denzel Washington) is approached by desperate villager Emma (Haley Bennett), whose town is under siege by corrupt businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Unable to complete the task alone, Sam rounds up wise-cracking gambler Faraday (Chris Pratt) and former friend and sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), as well as the latter’s knife-throwing comrade Billy (Byung-hun Lee). The group also recruits tracker Jack (Vincent D’Onofrio), outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and exiled Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Team assembled, they aim to take back the town.
At a time when the western is in vogue once again, The Magnificent Seven sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a movie made with far more respect for the kind of straight action films that made Fuqua’s name than for the classic John Sturges’ 1960s western or Kurosawa’s 1954 epic Seven Samurai. The film is in love with the prospect of violent, wild gunplay and neglects the relationships between the characters as a result. It seems as if the relatively engaging opening hour is just mere preamble for the climactic orgy of infuriatingly bloodless, impactless brutality.
The film boasts one of the most talented and diverse casts for a Hollywood tentpole this year. Chris Pratt, in particular, was born to play the Steve McQueen role of wise-cracking cad and Ethan Hawke looks like he has been appearing in westerns for his entire life. Peter Sarsgaard, meanwhile, dines out on the scenery with gleeful aplomb as one of the more delightfully hammy villains of the year. He seems to have an awareness of the classic hero and villain tropes of the movie and is amplifying that to levels that Denzel Washington’s dour, glum hero can only dream about.
The Magnificent Seven is constructed in such a way that the final act of handsomely mounted, seemingly endless violence is entirely devoid of any impact whatsoever. Bodies pile up at an alarming rate and hundreds of bullets fly, but there isn’t a shred of emotion to be found in amongst the quips and the zipping shards of shrapnel. In crafting an elegant and operatic action sequence, Fuqua entirely forgets that character is important in establishing a reason for the audience to care who lives and dies.
Thankfully, the film still has Haley Bennett to act as something like a shining beacon of hope in a surprisingly central role. She is frankly the best aspect of the film and, if this were a genuinely progressive and diverse take on the story, perhaps it should have been her who valiantly led the eponymous band of strays into battle. At least then, there might have been a reason to get behind them.
Pop or Poop?
Antoine Fuqua goes for comforting familiarity over genre daring in his take on The Magnificent Seven, focusing on the corpses rather than the characters. He is too keen to mount up the body count, but not prepared to put in the legwork to make us care about the lumps of flesh that make up the funeral pile. If only there had been a little more Haley Bennett.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.