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Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Premise: A remake of the 1960 film. Set in the American west, a frontier town is besieged by an unscrupulous industrialist and his army of thugs. The townspeople hire a group of seven gunmen to defend their community.

What Works: While The Magnificent Seven is not necessarily a better film than its predecessor it does improve upon it in several respects. Only about half of the seven characters in the 1960 film were actually characterized. That movie depended upon movie star casting and actors like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson played to their Hollywood image. The cast of the 2016 film is anchored by a couple of bona fide movie stars—Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt—but the rest of the core cost is played by character actors and many of them provide interesting performances. Ethan Hawke is cast as a Civil War veteran who had served as a sharpshooter and he is traumatized by his history of violence. He is paired with a knife-welding assassin played by Byung-hun Lee. Hawke and Lee have a likable rapport and there’s a hint of more going on beneath the surface of their relationship. The cast also includes Vincent D’Onofrio as an unhinged woodsman. D’Onofrio is very unusual; he’s not heaving with machismo in the same way as the rest of these men and he’s an unusual character in a Hollywood tentpole movie. Peter Sarsgaard plays the villain and as usual Sarsgaard gives a careful performance. Instead of hamming up the villainy, Sarsgaard is frightening in his restraint and intensity. The Magnificent Seven also gets pretty good performances from the movie star players. Chris Pratt does the charming rogue act that he does well and Denzel Washington is impressive as the unofficial leader of the group.  In recent movies like The Equalizer and 2 Guns Washington has been playing generic action heroes and he is more interesting in The Magnificent Seven than any film he has been in for some time. Aside from its cast, The Magnificent Seven also succeeds by emulating and building upon two winning elements of the 1960 film: its mix of humor and an appreciation of the cost of violence. The gunmen are quite funny and there is a lot of humor in the movie that makes The Magnificent Seven much more enjoyable than a lot of the tentpole films that Hollywood released this summer. However, the humor is offset by a sensitivity to the lasting trauma of violence that hangs over many of the gunmen.

What Doesn’t: One of the stranger aspects of 2016’s The Magnificent Seven is its score. Elmer Bernstein’s music from 1960’s The Magnificent Seven is one of the great scores in the history of film and the theme has become a classic piece of American music. The filmmakers of the 2016 picture seem conflicted about whether or not they should repeat Bernstein’s score and so the music of the new film sounds like an imitation of the classic theme and a weak one at that. The new version of The Magnificent Seven was directed by Antoine Fuqua who has had a checkered career with some very interesting films like Training Day and some awful ones Olympus Has Fallen. Fuqua does dramatic scenes pretty well but he isn’t especially skilled at action. That flaw comes to bear in The Magnificent Seven, especially in the big shootout at the end of the picture. There is little build up to the final battle and the gunfight doesn’t have much of a dramatic shape to it. The fighting takes place all over town and the action lacks a sense of space or screen direction. Any given shot is competently done and the overall action is discernable but the shootout doesn’t quite achieve the dramatic impact that it’s intended to have. 

Bottom Line: The 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven is a competent remake that successfully combines contemporary action filmmaking with the classic western. Although the new film is nowhere near the masterpiece that was Seven Samurai (the basis for The Magnificent Seven), it is a solidly entertaining action picture.

Episode: #614 (October 2, 2016)