Movie Review: ‘THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN’ – all guns and no play

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN | 132 min | PG-13
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan HawkeVincent D’OnofrioByung-hun LeeManuel Garcia-RulfoHaley BennettMatt Bomer and Peter Sarsgaard

There’s just something about an Action movie or an old Western that makes an audience forget about it all and just enjoy the ride. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the movies as a whole. Action movies have a straightforward plot and a lot of loud noises and gunfire; Westerns are set in simpler times, leaving the visual effects to a minimum and the formula of justice washes over them. Because of the modernity of most action movies, it rarely invades the space of a Western, as ultra-violence does not belong in the world of moral servitude and “Old Town” justice.

Enter Antoine Fuqua and his revival of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, a remake of the 1960 American depiction of Akira Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI. They all share the same story: a town is under siege by men of influence and power, until one of the townspeople goes on a quest to hire men for protection. These men are all of different personalities but with one common goal to right injustice.

In this version, the man of influence is Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), an industrialist lording over the town of Rose Creek until he’s dried them of their resources in the mines. Before they can revolt, he squashes the uprising, his henchmen beating everyone. One man defies them after abusing the preacher and gets killed. His widow Emma (Haley Bennett) goes out to seek help while Bogue is out of town for three weeks.

She finds help in John Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a court-appointed bounty hunter that is introduced to the audience as he finds his next suspect tending bar. After begging him to hear their story, he agrees to take the job. But first, he brings in a troublemaking gambler named Faraday (Chris Pratt), buying his horse to get his help on their journey.

Denzel Washington leads all-star cast in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Courtesy of  Columbia Pictures.

Denzel Washington leads all-star cast in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

From there, Chisolm and company recruit the best men that he knows from being all over the land: two weapons specialists-turned-con men in Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Mexican criminal bribed by Chisholm (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), legendary tracker Jack Horn (Vincent D’Onofrio), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), an Indian that has shunned the ways of his tribe. Inevitably, they ride into Rose Creek on a collision course with honor, valor, and possibly death.

Like most Fuqua-helmed features, there are two aspects that are clearly lacking in its approach. The first is the lack of character development, as everyone is just “OK!” to protecting this town with their lives. We hardly know anything about them save for some dialogue, and that’s sketchy at best. It’s hard to take their character as gentlemen when half of them are criminals, so a little more depth would’ve been appreciated.

Secondly, the movie is heavy-handed when it comes to editing. While the action set pieces do work with more verve and expediency, the story in between doesn’t need so many reaction shots. The beginning scene in the church cuts so much that it loses track of the dialogue between the townsfolk. Cutting too quickly in certain parts can give off a disjointed vibe, and take the audience out of the mood.

Regardless of its irregular storytelling, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a fun-filled ride. The chemistry between the mercenaries is infectious, their personalities carrying over into battle as well. For all that Fuqua is lacking, he makes up for directing action. The impact of the violence is something that is key, because, again, the Old West doesn’t leave much for CGI. A tomahawk appearing out of nowhere to crack through a ribcage, pieces of wood chipping off as bullets penetrate the walls are highlights of fantastic sound effects.

The movie also does well to pay tribute to the Westerns before it. The diversity of the cast is deservedly appreciated, but it’s also heightened by the fact that they all represent some archetype of its predecessors. It brings in the welcoming feeling one gets watching Westerns and enhances it with fast-paced battle to give that adrenaline rush achieved through the Action genre.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN doesn’t quite live up to its title, or the previous versions before it, but it does ride off into the sunset in style.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN opens nationwide on Friday.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.

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