Sunday, September 25, 2016

Film review: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Antoine Fuqua, 2016)

The town of Rose Creek is terrorised by mercenary Bart Bogue and his henchmen, who wishes to mine it for oil. In standing up to the villains, several innocent people are slaughtered in cold blood, including Matthew Cullen, leaving his grieving widow Emma (Haley Bennett) seeking retribution. She implores bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to defend her townspeople, a request he initially declines, until he hears who the enemy is. 

However, Sam alone isn't enough to overturn Bart's army, so he recruits wayward gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) using Josh's horse as barter. Faraday then enlists the help of Sam's former acquaintance, a sharpshooter named Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and gets his companion, assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), thrown in for free. The foursome are rounded off with wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), giant Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio),  and a Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).



The trailer for The Magnificent Seven was so cool and enticing that it made me momentarily forget my aversion for needless Hollywood remakes, of which Oldboy is the worst of a sorry bunch from recent years. But, in Antoine Fuque's plodder of a film, I realised that the film peaked at the strategic bass drop on the ad.

The film's four most well-known stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Peter Sarsagaard barely make it out of first gear. Pratt and Sarsgaard, in particular, both who have done exemplary work in the past, phone it in on crushingly disappointing levels.  Pratt, so charismatic in Guardians of the Galaxy, seems to think he can ride on the memory of his charm in this film, and exhibits no attempt at characterisation in his role. Waving his hands around to do a card trick is about the most he exerts himself.

Sarsgaard is equally limp as the villain, to the point where it detriments the film. Because The Magnificent Seven then lacks a compelling antagonist, it renders all the expensive (the film had had a eye-watering budget of $95 million) training montages shown in the film hollow, because we're simply not afraid of the force they're all priming themselves to face.

For the Training Day fans out there, of which I am one, the scenes between Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke lack the spice and spark that the two organically just had in Antoine Fuqua's earlier film. This is as much to blame on the clunky screenplay as it does the performers, where practically every character in the film speaks in (not very incisive, it has to be said) one-liners but strung together, it doesn't come close to resembling dialogue.

The cast member who makes the most lasting impression is pretty Haley Bennett as Emma, who the script graciously refrains from making a damsel in distress trope. Bennett fleshes out a 2D(ish) character into something resembling a human with a beating heart, and her early scenes where she pleads to Chisolm's sense of humanity do carry genuine pathos.




Perhaps rising star Bennett (who will next be seen in October's release The Girl on the Train), unlike the four male movie stars who I've named and shamed, actually bothered in Magnificent Seven because she cannot yet rest on the laurels of her name alone. The supporting cast also feature some witty turns, especially South Korean actor Byung-hun Lee who throws knives with panache and inhibits his taciturn/cool character with ease, and the always memorable Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays against his formidable physicality as surprisingly soft-spoken tracker.

There are a few gripping action sequences (which were the main contributor to my generous decision to award The Magnificent Seven 6/10), but they could all have been trimmed by at least 20% in the editing room. The final set piece dragged far too much and caused the payoff to feel frustratingly anti-climactic.

The Magnificent Seven touches upon topics of substance such as male companionship, the destructive nature of greed, carrying the guilt of one's actions (Hawke's character is crippled with bouts of PTSD) and bigotry, but they are all dealt with and resolved in a very superficial, Hollwood manner. Some of the cinematography is nice and the iconography of the seven men riding on horses will certainly make for some decent gifs. But sadly, The Magnificent Seven proved to be a lot less than the sum of its parts.

Not so magnificent, after all.

6/10

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