July 21, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Geek Review: The Magnificent Seven

Seven gunslingers come to defend a small town in this remake of the classic Western...itself a remake.

Did the world need or want a remake of The Magnificent Seven?  Well, it was itself a remake of another classic, The Seven Samurai, so I say it’s a wash.

Review after the cut.

The basic story of The Magnificent Seven should be known, and it doesn’t change much here.  A small town of poor farmers are being threatened by a nasty guy with an army and no compunction at all about taking what he wants, so when the townspeople reach a breaking point, they pool what few resources they have to hire seven gunslingers to defend them from a much larger force.  The seven agree despite the fact that the mission is sure to lead to death for most if not all of them.

But this new version made some changes perhaps for the benefit of social commentary.  No longer is it a poor Mexican village being hassled by an army of outlaws.  No, this time it’s a robber baron (Peter Sarsgaard) with a penchant for having a really weird interpretation of the word of God, claiming the democracy is tied to capitalism and in turn tied to God.  Sarsgaard doesn’t have many scenes in the grand scheme of the film, but he makes the most of what he has and the script seems inclined to oblige him by giving him little screen time but some truly memorable lines, no doubt courtesy of the co-writer, True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto.

In fact, though most of the script seems to consist of action movie cliches, what little there is to really make the movie stand out comes from whatever Pizzolatto contributed to the dialogue.  There are some hard-boiled noir type lines being tossed around which works for some characters if not for others (more on that below).

After Sarsgaard’s robber baron shoots a few folks in the street and burns down the village’s church, new widow Emma Cullen (redheaded Jennifer Lawrence clone Haley Bennett) and another guy whose name I never learned ride out to recruit some men to fight on their behalf, starting with bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), and quickly recruiting gambler Chris Pratt, former Confederate sniper Ethan Hawke, Asian assassin Byung-hun Lee, religious mountain man Vincent D’Onofrio, Mexican outlaw Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Comanche warrior Martin Sensmeier to help.  The Seven bond quickly and from there, it’s pretty much what happened the first time as they return with Emma to her town and set about teaching the people to fight for themselves.

The movie has a few flaws.  One is, surprisingly, Pratt.  Pratt’s natural charisma does not work for the type of character he’s playing, and that’s very disappointing.  Having Pratt play a well-meaning but ultimately harmless jerk like he did on Parks and Recreation or Guardians of the Galaxy works out fine.  But a hard-boiled noir jerk?  Not so much.  Pizzolatto’s dialogue may have helped make Sarsgaard’s villain more memorable, but it didn’t do much for Pratt’s morally dubious (at best) gambler.  The other, more important, is director Antoine Fuqua.  The longtime Washington collaborator does not do well with action sequences.  An early encounter the Seven have when they enter the town has them pop up one by one to surprise the villains left behind to guard the place, and I was wondering where Garcia-Rulfo was, only to realize he had been shown, just not from the front.  The final confrontation at the end of the movie is much worse.  I had trouble keeping track of what characters were where, as they seemed to materialize wherever as needed, and the only way to tell good guys from bad was to see who the Seven were shooting at at any given moment.  It seemed like more of a mess than most big action sequences at the end of bloated summer films tend to be.

As such, the movie was only OK.  I’m giving it a seven and a half out of ten whatever the hell voice Vincent D’Onofrio’s doing.

Surprisingly, Jimmy saw this opening weekend too.  Here’s his review:

You and I, we’ve discussed my memory right?  If not, let me just say that it is not up to snuff.  For example, I can tell you that I saw the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai.  I can also tell you that I saw the 1960 western The Magnificent Seven that it inspired.  What I can’t tell you, is anything else about either movie.  I know that one was in black and white with subtitles and the other was in color, but I have no idea which was which.  Ok, I kid, I do know that one.

This faulty memory of mine does have its advantages at times.  I can often revisit old movies/TV shows/comics, etc. that I know I’ve seen/read, and be surprised by them again.  In the context of getting to the point, it allows me to watch this new version of The Magnificent Seven and judge it on its own merits.

And watch it I did!  And by the sounds of the banter in our editorial meeting, I liked it more than Tom Kelly (as you can see above) and one William Q Watson The Third.  They both thought it was “ok to decent” and graded it at 7.5 out of 10.  I’m going to be a bit more generous and give it 8.5 out of 10 “who’s Chris Pratt?”’s.  Which is what Ms. Impossible and her mother asked me after the movie.  Maybe he’s not as popular as we think he is.  🙂

I don’t think it will win any Oscars, nor garner much critical praise or long-term accolades, but it was a well-made western/action movie, though the best part of the music was from 50+ years ago.  (Hey!  I remembered the music from the original!)

The cast is stellar, even if I can’t off the top of my head tell you all seven of the magnificent ones.  Denzel is Denzel.  Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke also stand out as the new young hot shot and the old gunslinging legend respectively.  And you’ll want to slap the smug grin off Peter Sarsgaard’s face, so he is doing his job as The Villain.

But in the end, it is really about Denzel and his posse and a group of farmers defending their town against an army.  Needless to say, there are several shootouts, particularly the finale.  But I was very surprised that the movie was not very gory at all.  It was very old school in that regard.  People are getting killed all over the place, and there is blood spilled, but outside of one very brief shot of someone’s ear that has seen better days, the gore is almost non-existent.

One of my few complaints with the film was Vincent D’Onofrio’s voice.  His acting was great, his dialogue was fine, but why was he talking like:

You wanting some spuds with dat d’ere burger pardner?

Currently only at 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems other critics are feeling the same way as Tom and Watson, but I thought is was a good way to spend two and a quarter hours.