The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard
Despite a pedigree that includes the iconic Training Day (2001), The Magnificent Seven may be sporting a rather optimistic title. It is a 50% film, a halfhearted attempt to craft an exciting western adventure, an attempt which lacks any flair or vehemence.
Sam Chisolm (played by Washington) unites a band of unlikely heroes to protect the little town of Rose Creek against the greed of land baron Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard). Despite boasting a collection of major names, The Magnificent Seven struggles to produce any likeable characters. None come with much appeal, and any idiosyncrasies or quirks are either non-existent or hugely neglected. Chris Pratt, no stranger to ensemble adventure movies, fails to submit a single endearing quality (not even his signature boyish charm), while Washington’s Chisolm fails to be an inspiring leader. Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux starts off strong as one of the film’s best elements, but his story rapidly dissolves into something frustratingly fuzzy and cryptic. A poor script might be to blame, but even these eminent names struggle to pull anything other than mediocre out of it.
Similarly ill-defined are the bonds between the Seven; themes of camaraderie and brotherhood are completely missed, so it is hard to be enthusiastic about their efforts. Likewise, their flimsy motivations and apparent blind willingness to embark on the dangerous task for which Washington’s Chisolm recruits them is a bit of an eyebrow raiser. It is a rare thing, but The Magnificent Seven is one of those films which could benefit from more footage. An extra 20 minutes spent exploring the characters and fortifying the bonds between them would help greatly in giving the audience someone they actually want to root for.
To its credit, the film does possess some positive elements. One triumph is the film's antagonist, Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard. While wonderfully sinister on-screen; it is actually his lack of screen time which cements his air of menace. Bogue is always in the back of your mind, and Fuqua has successfully judged the perfect amount of screen time needed to achieve this; avoiding the common pitfall of over-saturating a film with scenes of baddies doing bad things. Another triumph is its look; Fuqua’s film certainly is a visual success. The Magnificent Seven is a vibrant and detailed display of Old West America, with its rustic mining towns and fantastic costume design. The final set piece, an intricate gunfight between the Seven and Bogue’s men, is also impressive, easily the most inventive and rousing part of the film. The conclusion to this battle sends an odd message, one which is decidedly favourable towards brutal revenge, but the last half hour benefits hugely from this long overdue energy injection.
However, the main issue with The Magnificent Seven may be one which is more fundamental. Struggling with an identity crisis, the film is not quite sure what it wants to be, and so sits awkwardly between a family adventure and gritty portrayal of Old West violence. It lacks the humour and quirkiness needed for the former and the sufficient character exploration for the latter. This is made evident by some uncomfortable and out of place undertones of racism and sexism; such outdated attitudes are appropriate in period pieces, but unnecessary in a relatively light-hearted adventure film.
It seems that anything magnificent can be found in the title alone, the rest of the film falling far shorter, only looking good on paper. It feels feeble and unenthusiastic, showing only weak attempts to develop interesting characters and relationships. A real shame considering the evident labour devoted to the film's visual elements.
In one line: Although made with quality ingredients, Fuqua’s western recipe lacks the flair and definition needed to turn it into something special.