FILM REVIEW: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven

magnificent-7Well, well, Hollywood can still make Westerns.

The Magnificent Seven remake lands in theaters. It stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. This is the third version. It was first made in 1954 as Seven Samurai, then in the U.S. as The Magnificent Seven in 1960.

So, is it worth visiting this thrice-told tale?

Actually, yes. There’s comfort to be found in slipping into the well-worn American Western genre. It’s also interesting to see the changes that a new generation of filmmakers can bring to the same old story.

The basic plot remains the same. A persecuted town puts out a call for help in face of big bad guy. A veteran fighter comes to their rescue by putting together a team, and encouraging the villagers to learn to defend themselves. A mega-gun battle against the bandits takes place. Some of the good guys win and some die. The survivors ride off into the sunset.

In this version, it’s the town of Rose Creek that is being terrorized a gold mine digging businessman, Bartholomew Bogue. After a slaughter of the farmers, one widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) goes searching for someone to help. She finds Sam Chisholm (Washington), who is “a peace officer in seven states and the Indian Territory.”

Chisholm recruits Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt), a gambler, and an old friend, Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke), Jack Horne, a former Indian fighter, the knife-throwing Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), the outlaw Vasquez from Mexico, and the young Native American warrior, Red Harvest.

They return to Rose Creek, train the farmers to fight back. Bogue returns with a huge group of hired killers, and a gun battle ensues. The heroes use their Civil War experience to lay traps for the killers; Bogue imports a Gatling (machine) gun to blow holes in the town.

So what’s noteworthy? It’s first and foremost, a male bonding film. Even the presence of the widow Cullen wandering around in a flimsy blouse (not appropriate for the period or character) provokes scant notice from anyone.

The characters all have problems. There’s a personal reason why Chisom goes after Bogue. The memory of the Civil War, or as Pratt’s Faraday calls it, “The War of Northern Aggression” haunts most of the characters who fought on the losing side. Robicheaux was a noted sniper and suffers from PTSD, Red Harvest has been tossed from his tribe.

Washington may be the lead character but it’s Pratt who the camera loves. He’s the most active character playing off all of the others. He also gets most of the best lines.

On the downside, it’s an uneven film. Most of the secondary characters lack depth. Plot-wise, it would make sense for Cullen to wear a flimsy blouse if she was out to trade on her sex appeal in finding help, but it’s probably much more likely that the filmmakers just wanted cleavage. For all the flirting that Pratt’s Faraday tries with her, there’s little to no chemistry between their characters.

And the last thirty seconds of voice-over will leaving you wondering what’s going on? I suspect it was a bow to the 1960 film but if you haven’t seen that version, the end is very puzzling. There’s also a subplot with Red Harvest that seems to come out of nowhere.

Stepping back from the plot, the film is beautifully filmed in the deserts and mountains of Louisiana, Arizona and California. It’s almost an advertisement to visit the Western U.S.

One sad note is that the new The Magnificent Seven is the last film scored by composer James Horner who died in an airplane crash in 2015. Additional music was filled out by Simon Franklin.

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