The Magnificent Seven Review
The Magnificent Seven (2016) Film Review from the 41st Annual Toronto International Film Festival, a movie directed by Antoine Fuqua, and starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Josh Faraday, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio,
TIFF is upon us once again, and that means the premieres of some of the best films you’ll see this year. The Magnificent Seven is not one of those films. Antoine Fuqua’s first foray into the Western genre is a remake of the 1960’s cowboy flick starring Steve McQueen. Film buffs will know that the original Magnificent Seven was actually another remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. After two rebirths for this story, something has clearly been lost in translation.
Something about this film makes it feel like they shot a first draft. It’s as if The Magnificent Seven can’t decide if it wants to be a realistic, contemporary Western, like the Cohen brothers’ True Grit, or if it wants to be a not-so-serious action film. There’s inconsistency in the film’s tone, storytelling style, and narrative arcs.
The most significant problem is the Seven themselves. There’s little to no challenge involved for Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) in assembling his gang. Six out of seven members of the team just kind of decide to go along with Chisolm. The one member who initially rejects Chisolm’s proposal ends up joining five minutes later anyway, and for literally no explained reason.
Also, regarding the Seven’s characters and casting choices: it’s great that Fuqua has made the decision to use a diverse cast, but his characters seem to rely too heavily on cheap gimmicks. The film’s only Asian character, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is a stereotypical ninja archetype, and also, somewhat uncomfortably, is the manservant of a white guy. Magnificent Seven‘s Mexican character doesn’t directly contribute to the plot at all. And, no matter how hard Peter Sarsgaard tried to save the role, Bartholomew Bogue is a Kirkland Signature version of There Will Be Blood‘s Daniel Plainview. The film makes an interesting choice in depicting one of its characters as struggling from PTSD, but its handing of the subject makes it feel like mental illness has been shoehorned in to add some depth to one of the characters.
The film spends all this time introducing these seven characters with their unique skill sets, but when it finally comes to the showdown we’ve all been waiting for, it’s just a gunfight. Billy, the knives specialist, is shooting a gun. Jack Horne (D’Onofrio), the tracker, is sometimes throwing his tomahawk, but is mostly just shooting a gun.
What’s actually surprising is how much the character’s intended roles don’t translate on the screen. For example, if you check any information about the film, you’ll see that Chris Pratt’s character, Josh Farraday, is somehow supposed to be an explosives expert. That never comes across in the film. Sure, there are explosives used by the Seven, but Farraday’s connection to them is never made clear to the audience.
The dialogue is much too contemporary for this time period and setting. Considering that this movie is meant to be a period piece, the screenwriters makes some really sloppy mistakes. In one scene, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), the young widow who initially hired the Seven to reclaim her town from Bogue’s men, tells one of her fellow Rose Crick homesteaders that she was the only one with the “balls” to get help for their town. Most people might not be familiar enough with the etymology and history of the word “balls” as meaning “courage.” However, English nerds will be able to tell you that this specific meaning of the word “balls” didn’t come into common use until the late 1920s, which is almost fifty years after the film is meant to take place.
You might think this point is pedantic, and sure, complaining about etymology is nitpicking. Some more casual or contemporary dialogue could have been acceptable, but it was like the screenwriters didn’t even try to give the characters voices that were at least a little authentic to the timeline. Even if you ignore the fact that most of the characters speak in a manner that is too contemporary, you can’t put aside some of the more clichéd lines. The film’s final voice over is so oozing with cheese that people at my screening actually burst into laughter right before the credits rolled.
Authenticity seems to be a problem in general. The film feels like you’re at a Wild West show at a not-very-good theme park. Despite the film’s $108 million budget, the production design looked somewhat cheap. At times, it honestly looked like they’d reused the sets from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. The film’s final battle was good, but not great. Considering the original film and to the Western genre in general, Toy Story‘s cowboy rag doll Woody is a more faithful homage.
If you’re a stickler for accuracy in your period films, or if you’re looking for a faithful interpretation of either of the originals, stay at home. However, if you like cowboys and explosions, and you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the house, there are some redeeming qualities to this film. Despite its flaws, it’s still decently entertaining. There are gorgeous wide shots that take great advantage of the natural beauty of America’s heartland. Washington’s bold performance as Chisom was the highlight of the film. Clearly, Fuqua has a love of the Western genre, but from the looks of The Magnificent Seven, it might be an abusive relationship.
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