The Magnificent Seven

Of course we all know the main reason a studio remakes a 56-year-old enduringly-popular western (itself a remake, of course) is to earn more money for itself. Consequently, I can’t be bothered discussing this film in any great detail, and feel that the cynicism lying behind the production should be met with an equally cynical shrug of the shoulders. But briefly: Peter Sarsgaard is fun (and underused) as the evil capitalist villain – surely director Antoine Fuqua could have included him in more than four scenes, given that the 2016 update of John Sturges’ classic western The Magnificent Seven is two hours long. Sarsgaard’s character is thinly-drawn, like all the others, including – rather oddly – Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisholm, very much a typical western ‘man in black’ (though of course it’s still unusual to see a black actor in a lead role within this genre). Chisholm’s back story is saved for the final scene, to add further drama to proceedings, but unfortunately it just leaves you thinking ‘that’s actually interesting…why didn’t you tell us that earlier?’ Anyway, he’s the leader of the Seven, and this film’s counterpart to Yul Brynner’s gunslinger; Denzel’s as charismatic as usual, here.

Joining him is Chris Pratt, who wisecracks away in the Steve McQueen role, but looks for all the world like a man appearing in a TV sketch show skit of a western, Saturday Night Live-ing his way through one cliche after another (though his performance does at least echo the playful tone of Sturges’s earlier film). Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke are the other big names in the cast, and they fare slightly better with the material, while the team is rounded off by the less-well-known actors Byung hun-Lee, Martin Sensmeier and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who play ‘East Asian’, Comanche and Mexican characters respectively. I’d love to celebrate the inclusivity here, but can’t really get past the feeling that it’s very obviously an exercise in racial box-ticking, and a marketing ploy to attract as wide an audience as possible; the film doesn’t really explore the experiences of any of its minority characters as they relate to the setting or period. Um…what else? It’s a boys club again, so only one woman (Haley Bennett) has a part of note, and in fact only one woman in addition to Bennett gets to read a line. You could argue that the way the late composer James Horner’s soundtrack references Elmer Bernstein’s original score is subtle, but I’m not feeling particularly charitable, and I’ll say instead that it’s too restrained for my liking (a fact made all too clear by the joyous burst of this brilliant, inspiring, romantic theme during the end credits). Finally, and somewhat disappointingly, the director makes a bit of a hash of the big gun battles. The last of these sees a seemingly endless number of non-descript, villainous henchman bite the bullet, and is a muddled, sloppy affair: how on earth is it possible to confuse the geography of a town with just one street? But…y’know what? I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained at times, and there are worse ways of passing a couple of hours, especially if you have a fondness for westerns generally, or those ‘putting-the-team-together’ movies of yore. It’s just that…beyond the issue of making money…what exactly is the point?

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Written by: Nick Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk. Based on Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent d’Onofrio, Byung hun-Lee, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard.
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore.
Editing: Josh Refoua.
Music: James Horner, Simon Franglen.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 132 minutes.
Year: 2016.

Comments 9

  1. Cindy Bruchman October 17, 2016

    I liked your review, Stu. You don’t care for it as much as other bloggers, and that’s fine. Such a remake is nearly impossible to pull off. It is a limited story with originality sacrificed; I liked your idea of including the backstory of Chisholm. It would have given it depth and made it more interesting to watch.

    • Stu October 17, 2016

      Thanks Cindy. Unfortunately I don’t feel much in the way of goodwill towards the film, though I thought it was OK. I was disappointed they only added Chisholm’s story in at the end; I don’t think it’s an afterthought, as such, but I think it warranted more prominence. I can’t think of many remakes that have improved upon the original in any meaningful way. This one will be filed away with Psycho and the like.

  2. Keith October 17, 2016

    Good stuff Stu. We’ve talked about it a bit, but I definitely had more fun with it. I went in looking for fun, lightweight entertainment. Nothing dense or profound. For me Mag7 delivered that. I’ve thought about your take on the lack of female characters past the one (who is good IMO). I’m still okay with it. I think many movies pay no mind to their females and the movie suffers for it. I see this as a very straightforward story and its male-heavy characters fit. Still I appreciate your perspectives. They made me examine my own a bit closer.

    • Stu October 17, 2016

      Thanks very much Keith – and I agree Bennett is quite good here. I liked that they made her character resilient, and she is important to the story right up to the very end. I think we will have to just disagree on the lack of women more generally, but thanks for sharing your opinion on it.

  3. Tom October 18, 2016

    We are of similar minds on this one my friend. I was entertained by it all but it all felt like an empty, hollow, routine exercise and I know Antoine Fuqua can deliver more.

    • Stu October 19, 2016

      Yeah he has definitely made better. Making a good western is not easy…but it’s not a bad film by any means (and as 2016 blockbusters go it’s a masterpiece!)

  4. Todd B November 14, 2016

    Hey Stu! Just letting you know, I’m slowly catching up on all of your reviews that I’ve fallen behind on, and with your new baby caveman ready to take over your life (and blog time), I don’t want to flood you with all my snarky comments and such. So please be aware, I’m reading your posts, and will jump back into commenting when you’re good and ready (and when you make the comment boxes available again!).

  5. thoughtsallsorts January 28, 2017

    Great review and just like you, I didn’t really feel there was a point to this one. In fact, unlike the 1960 version, here I felt totally indifferent to the 7 and wasn’t really bothered if they made it out alive or not. What a pity though…could have been great. But then, I’ve just re-watched the original and I don’t think any remake can be better than that.
    You commented on the late reveal of Chisholm’s backstory…I found myself wondering throughout the movie around him and when we would find out what his story is because there clearly was going to be one.
    Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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