TL;DR – A truly amazing film, one of the best westerns I have seen in a very long time, great acting, great filming, and top notch action, this is one to see.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Once again another remake, it seems that 2016 should be subtitled the Year of Remakes, from the ‘surprisingly ok’ Ghostbusters to the ‘why bother’ Ben-Hur, to the ‘joy that was’ Pete’s Dragon. So this week not only do we have a remake, but we have a remake of a remake with The Magnificent Seven, and how did it fair, well really quite good if you ask me.
I have to admit I did come into this movie with a little bit of excitement because it has been a while since I have seen a truly great western, a genre that has fallen by the wayside over the years or maybe decades. The last good one I can think of was True Grit or indeed Rango, I mean we had The Hateful Eight earlier this year but that was all flash and no substance, but that was at least better than The Ridiculous Six, with the less said about that the better. So why don’t we get more good westerns anymore, well part of it is that the time period is problematic for a number of reasons with its historic representations of indigenous people, they all do tend to feel a bit samey after a while, more than a little out of date, and let’s be honest a lot of what we know about the ‘wild west’ is just a construction of Hollywood anyway. So why did The Magnificent Seven connect with me while so many haven’t … well, frankly it’s for a lot of reasons.
The first thing that works for The Magnificent Seven is its characters, what a great cast and what wonderful performances they give. This is what connected me to the movie more so than anything else because you can’t help but have a connection with what their motivations are. Now I’m going to talk a bit about the characters and that might lead into spoiler territory, if you want to go into the movie blind you might want to skip to the next paragraph. A really good example of this is Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), who I feel is one of the most complex characters that I have seen in a movie for a while. Firstly he is being played by Vincent D’Onofrio who from his work in Daredevil and other films has sort of made a name for himself by playing deeply complex characters. The best bit about the character is that you don’t find out everything about him all at once, you go ‘oh that is the slightly unhinged character’ but the more you learn about his life and the tragic turns it took you have to reevaluate the character and your response to him. As well as this you have Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) who is suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress but back then it was only known as cowardice, who is desperate to keep face but haunted by the things he did in the Civil War. You have Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) who shows true strength in the face of adversity, and they did not try to force a terrible romance subplot which would have been the norm not that long ago, irrespective of if it worked or not. Even in the case of Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) who doesn’t have as big an arc as some of the other characters, but then he has a sense of physicality that stands out and when you are in a movie with post Guardians of the Galaxy Chris Pratt that is saying something, and of course Chris Pratt is as charming as ever.
Another area when the movie shines is in the staging, some of those shots in the first act were simply outstanding, now to be fair given their filming location you would actually have to work hard to make it anything other than amazing, but still wow. As well as this, the set design for Rose Creek (the town the movie is set in) was really top notch. It felt lived in, whilst clearly still on the frontier, which is surprisingly difficult to pull off. This also extends to the main characters, all of the costumes are designed for fitting within the time frame of the movie, but also giving each character a clear visual identity, which you’ll need in the inevitable third act firefight. The one thing I will say is that a couple of times at the start they were playing with shots in both light and darkness, with the hope to give some contrast or mystery, but they don’t quite work and it just becomes a little unclear.
Of course, if you are going to see a western the one thing you probably want to know about is the action and well you are going to get your money’s worth. In the first act, you get a lot of one v one standoffs, which escalate to small skirmishes in the second act, which then escalate to outright chaos in the third act. All of this action works because it is in the context of the story, The Magnificent Seven starts off similarly to John Wick with an act so outrageous that you as an audience are completely behind any and all efforts to bring the main antagonist down. Now if you saw the first remake in 1960 (or like since then) with Yul Brynner, the 2016 version will be both quite familiar to you, but also quite different, as it is structured similarly but the plot beats differ and as do the locations and motivations for the characters. As the film progresses each character gets moments to shine and show off their style or expertise, and this is something I draw attention to this as for some reason it is quite difficult for films to pull it off. I mean take the last Harry Potter where most of the final film was the battle of Hogwarts and even there you couldn’t really say everyone got their moment. There are a few special effects going on here but for the most part they fall into the Mad Max Fury Road School of amplifying the physical action rather than being a replacement for it, though the last shot of the film is oddly clearly all CGI (or at least looks it) and it stands out as such.
I really enjoyed the story of the film, though that may be because it has been so long since I last saw the original remake that I could not remember what was coming next. I liked that this film had tension, one of my big criticisms of The Hateful Eight was that it was a film all about the tension that ended up not being tense, but here wow. A great example of this is the opening scene in the Church, from the moment Bartholomew ‘Bart’ Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) walks in, it’s like the whole town holds its breath. You also see it in the first scene we are introduced to Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) which actually plays out reasonably similarly to a scene in Django Unchained, except for the fact that this is an American PG13 film so it is the same scene just without every second character dropping the N word. However, the film is also quite funny at times, and this does not all fall entirely on Chris Pratt’s shoulders, the whole cast all have their moments of levity. My one complaint is that some of the character arcs are so predictable that you will see them coming a mile away, for example [SPOILERS ENGAGED] oh wow there is one Native American on the bad guys side as well, I wonder if he will end up in a duel with the only other Native American in the film, oh wow I did not see that coming.
In the end can I recommend The Magnificent Seven? … yes completely. It has a strong cast playing complicated characters, it has a solid story, the action is spectacular, you will laugh out loud at times, and you may even get a bit teary. It’s a solid film, a worthy successor and a riot from start to finish.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay by – Nic Pizzolatto & Richard Wenk
Based on – Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto & Hideo Oguni & The Magnificent Seven screenplay by William Roberts, Walter Newman & Walter Bernstein
Starring – Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer & Peter Sarsgaard
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG13