The Magnificent Seven
The only thing intriguing about The Magnificent Seven
is its sledgehammer-subtle symbolism. A black man rides into town and, aided by his garrulous Irish sidekick, assembles a multicultural coalition to beat back the evils of twisted capitalism, embodied by a corrupt industrialist who wants to take over through fear and intimidation. In the end, our Obama analogue wants to head home, leaving it all in the charge of a woman who finds her mettle through adversity’s fire.
The film’s script is a mixed-up bag, full of the promise you’d expect from screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, the creator/writer of the first season of True Detective
, and the squandered opportunities you’d expect from Pizzolatto, the writer of True Detective’
s second season. As envisioned through the muddled lens of director Antoine Fuqua, the film ends up an arid western that sacrifices substance for sheer shoot-’em-ups.
Bad ol’ Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) burns down the church and makes a widow out of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, a poor woman’s Jennifer Lawrence) to force the citizens of Rose Creek to sell their gold-rich land to him at dirt-cheap prices. A desperate Cullen hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to save the homeland. In turn, Chisolm solicits help from a band of gunslinging misfits, starting with rakish gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) and Civil War sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), who suffers from PTSD and a half-baked script.
Chisolm has murky motives for signing onto this fool’s errand, and that’s still more than the inexplicable motivations of the rest of this suicide squad. Compounding the lack of rationale for why this septet would champion such a seemingly lost cause is the conspicuous lack of tension in and around the group, even along obvious fault lines. A Crow-scalping frontiersman (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier) collaborate without even a glare between them. A cursory conversation dissipates any suspicion between Chisolm and a Texican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) with a price on his head. Nary a single invective is hurled at Robicheaux’s man Friday (Byung-hun Lee), an Asian assassin equally skilled with guns, knives, and hairpins.
There’s nothing but chummy camaraderie between Confederate vet Robicheaux and Chisolm, a black man in a post-Civil War Old West setting, whose race is never alluded to aside from a few sidelong glances he receives while trotting into town atop his steed, Django-style. Indeed, when Chisolm fast talks his way out of gunning down a bounty, he briefly channels the Dr. King Schultz role from Django Unchained
That’s just part of the menagerie of movie references Fuqua pastes together for this Western mash-up. The panoramic vistas and soaring music of John Ford abut Sergio Leone pastiche. There’s a Gatling gun straight out of The Wild Bunch
, and the costumes look like leftovers from Little House on the Prairie
Of course, this is also a remake of a remake: Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai
begat the 1960 American iteration, The Magnificent Seven
. Both were built around a “band of disreputables” narrative that has been reconfigured and worn out over the ensuing half-century. In this version, when our throwback avengers start gunning down and tomahawking Pinkerton cannon fodder with superhuman precision, the spectacle starts to look like a generic superhero film.
Pratty’s trademark wit provides the film’s lone levity, unless you count D’Onofrio’s reedy, nearly unintelligible brogue. Washington is clearly at ease with Fuqua in their third collaboration after Training Day
and The Equalizer
. But while Fuqua has a fine eye for action, it’s trumped by his tin ear for pacing and plot development. The recently released Hell or High Water
shows that westerns can still be well-made and relevant. The Magnificent Seven
isn’t how you make Westerns great again.