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Friday, September 23, 2016

Movie Review: #TheMagnificentSeven

The Magnificent Seven is the best film in months. Thank the western movie gods.

Review by Matt Cummings

Director Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven is perhaps a mirror of its time: a restless, fun, but ultimately pulpy action flick with a tad more substance than most brainless fare. And yet, it's so much fun, so funny, and never boring that any problems I (or it appears every other American critic) have with it are easily erased.

After witnessing unimaginable loss by the evil robber baron Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), a hardworking town seeks revenge and righteousness in the form of seven antiheroes, each with their own checkered past. There's the bounty hunter leader Chisolm (Denzel Washington), the card-playing womanizer Faraday (Chris Pratt), Chisolm's sniper buddy Goodnight (Ethan Hawke) and assassin/friend Billy (Byung-hun Lee), a wanted felon (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and the aging hunter Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio). As the widow Emma (Haley Bennett) returns from recruiting the team, she realizes that a bloodbath is coming that could see her friends and neighbors become victims of Bogue's sadism. Matched up against hopeless odds, Emma and her Magnificent Seven must deal with personal demons while attempting to liberate a town that might not want them there. The results will see some pay the ultimate price, while rage will propel others into battle for the first time.

Fuqua brings several memorable elements to The Magnificent Seven, the first of which is protection of community by common strangers. Why these seven individuals band together to help a dirt town that won't even exist 50 years later is one of two interesting ribbons that flow through the movie. And while it never truly answers it, we get the sense that it's due entirely to caring for your common man. I would have liked more exploration of that than the (for what feels like) minutes of assembling the killing machines against Bogue's army, but it's entirely adequate to the task. Given the divided nature of our current political discourse, it's a nice theme to get behind.

The other theme - internal friendship - gets the better treatment. Every one of these men comes along for their own selfish desires, whether it's for money, fame, loss, isolation, or righting wrongs. For others, it's because they don't have anything else better to do, but the chemistry is so good that we don't need declarations of love for Washington's Chisolm to know that they're there. Instead these men poke fun at one another in some of the best one-liners of the year, led mostly by Pratt. He's a natural joker and a nice contrast to the serious Washington; but there are five others here, with most of them getting their time to shine. Among the strangest is D'Onofrio, whose high-pitched voice made many laugh then got on a few nerves after awhile. Still, he's very capable here but not given the screen time or thrust for joining the team. There's some suggestion he might know someone on the team, but it's never explored. Martin Sensmeier perhaps gets the least treatment as the loner Native Red Harvest; there's a simple discussion, a breaking of the 'bread' in gross/hilarious scene, and he's onboard. Again, a minute of exposition to explain his past (and one less of that fortification buildup) would have helped.

Even though Hawke's Goodnight is the damaged war veteran, he's not the only one here with issues, and it's great to see how Chisolm and Frarady slowly break him down to build him back up. Unfortunately, Goodnight's redemption is not handled well at all - without giving it away, we can see the arc coming a mile away and it's not satisfying at all. The others are merely wall dressing, leaving me to wonder why some survive and others don't. Again, you might find yourself after the movie wishing Fuqua had made better choices in who's left after the bloodbath. And it's one hell of a fight.

The Magnificent Seven is one of the best-choreographed westerns and movies in general I've seen in awhile. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore is a long-time Fuqua colleague, and here they bring the wild west to life in all its gritty ugliness. In the way Sergio Leone took the gleam off 40's/50's American westerns, so too does Fiore. He brings wide open spaces to equal with tightly-shot character moments, which increases the overall dark tone. But it's the action that so terrific, especially in the elongated siege of the village. It almost feels like a strip club as baddies seem to come out of the woodwork, only to be dispensed by a dizzying amount of Washington hip-shots. That's not necessarily an achievement, because it starts to lose its effect once we witness it for the 12th time. Again, it's a minor point because our team creates such an impressive and immersive experience that we're ready to dismiss the old-school cheesiness of it.

It's clear that Washington does not do sequels (people, you know you want another Equalizer!), but his magnetic personality serves like a sun for the rest of his planets. They operate around him with near-perfect motion, minimizing some of their reasons for joining. That's not a fault, so long as you can accept it. You'll also have to accept that The Magnificent Seven doesn't offer anything new or inventive to the genre; it's an engrossing revenge/redemption film, and while some reveals do pop up you already know some of what to expect as you pay for the ticket. Sarsgaard is a one-dimensional psychopath with very little development beyond his truly irredeemable personality. He's not someone to be bullied, bargained, or reasoned with, and the necessity of his death is established in the very good 10 minute intro. What's more, the film is a commentary in itself about how much we're willing to buy into the 'bible' of a film, that our appreciation of the film is based entirely on the universe that our team fashions. I'd have to say that I bought that like an Eskimo buys ice from a con artist, but at least I don't feel bad about that.

The Magnificent Seven doesn't offer anything particularly new or inventive, but it's a smart, well-build and executed affair that will make your popcorn and soda taste that much better. It's one of the best releases in months, even though every other critic out there might say otherwise. The Magnificent Seven is ready to prove that it can prosper in a year of stunning disappointments and massive box office flops by doing what it does best: entertain.

The Magnificent Seven is PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material and has a runtime of 132 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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