The Magnificent Seven (dir. Antoine Fuqua)

Posted: October 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

“America has always equated Democracy with Capitalism. Capitalism with God.”

-Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard)

That is the only memorable line, and the only part of the film even attempting any modern social commentary, in the new “The Magnificent Seven” film, which is a remake of the 1960 original, which itself was an American remake of the classic Japanese film “The Seven Samurai”. While the new film has a diverse cast, and goes out of its way to have its main female character (Haley Bennett) wield a gun (when she’s not baring an excessive amount of cleavage for reasons not intrinsic to the story), it misses a huge opportunity to be a commentary on the modern American zeitgeist (or America has an experiment in general), and instead is simply the most generic of western films that can possibly be made, with one-dimensional characters spouting one-liners as the film devolves into an orgy of bloodless, PG-13 violence. If you like generic westerns, you’ll like the film, but to say it isn’t a disappointment with all of this talent in front of and behind the camera would be a lie.

The plot involves Bogue, a robber baron in the late 1800s who is terrorizing a small town as he extracts all of the natural resources from its mines. After a failed coup against Bogue, resulting in the robber baron’s men killing a number of the citizens, the wife of one of those murdered, Emma (Bennett) sets out to hire a warrant officer, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to force the Bogue out of town, preferably by killing him. Since Bogue has an army of employed mercenaries at his disposal, Chisolm can’t do this alone, so he recruits as many people as he can to help him train the townspeople to fight back, and offer their guns for the cause. After a very long and occasionally humorous process of recruiting (it takes up almost all of the first act, as opposed to the montage these films usually employee) we have Faraday (Chris Pratt), a wannabe ladies’ man and gambler; Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Mexican outlaw; Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), an exiled Comanche; Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a crazy mountain man who is very Christian and used to scalp Native Americans for government bounty; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a former Confederate sniper who had a crisis of conscience and now tours the country with Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), an Asian knife expert that engages in duels for money.  The most progressive thing this film does **SPOILER ALERT** is have only minorities survive of the seven.  It’s not much following a film devoid of any useful social commentary, but it’s a nice little bucking of convention. **SPOILER ENDS**

Despite the somewhat progressive attitude toward race, the film’s only roles for women are in prostitutes, schoolmarms, or wives. Granted, these are the only roles for women usually allotted by the Western genre, but for a film that seems to exist for the purposes of bringing progressiveness to an inherently reactionary genre, one would think they would try to do more for women than have Bennett shoot a gun a few times…like give more than two lines of dialogue to any other female character. Honestly, any progressiveness shown by the film is surface level and lacking any real heart, as the film really just wants to be an easy, down-the-middle western film. Considering how lately we’ve had Westerns like Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight” actually try to be original in some aspects, and films like the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” remake put decent new spins on old favorites, it is more than a little disappointing to see this multicultural “Magnificent Seven” remake be so bland, unoriginal, and having no reason to exist. It’s not a horrifically disrespectful piece of shit like this year’s “Ghostbusters” reboot, but this film only exists as a cynical studio product taking the name of a reasonable well-respected film, loading it up with two of the most bankable stars today (Washington and Pratt) and trying to watch the dollars role in. In fact, I’d wager the only reason they even went with a multicultural cast was to make a Western film appeal to minority movie goers, since Westerns are a traditionally white-favorite genre. The fact that no in-movie discussion is made of Washington’s race (which seems peculiar for the year 1879, especially when racial mentions are made of the Mexican, Asian, and Native American characters) seems really ahistorical. I’m not saying I expect the film to dwell on it, but you can’t tell me white people in 1879 aren’t going to be hostile to a black man with a badge shooting white fugitives in their town.

The result is that I had fun with some of the one-liners and the action scenes are serviceable, but there’s no reason for this film to exist, and absolutely nothing memorable about it. Even a lame 3rd act twist connecting Washington’s character to the villain falls flat because you see it coming from a mile away. By the time the film tries to surprise you by *SPOILER AGAIN* having the lone female main character actually be the one to kill the villain *SPOILER ENDS*, it’s too little, too late.

This is the kind of film to rent and play in the background while you cook something in the kitchen or have an unrelated conversation on the couch with someone. C.

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