REVIEW: “The Magnificent Seven” (2016)

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It’s no surprise that Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua would work together again on a new project. They certainly struck gold with the popular and the acclaimed “Training Day”. But I have to admit I was a bit surprised at their latest creative endeavor. I’m not sure why though. After all this is the age of remakes, reboots, reimaginings, re-everything else.

Their newest collaboration is “The Magnificent Seven”, a modern action crowdpleaser anchored by a fun ensemble cast. The original 1960 Western classic was based on Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai”. This updated film tends to pull further away from its roots but never so far as to lose its identity. It embraces the basics of the story while adding in a few details of its own. And as expected it attempts to do everything bigger most notably the furious wild western action.

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If you haven’t seen the 1960 Western, Yul Brynner led a hired band of misfits to protect a small Mexican village from a gang of violent bandits. In Fuqua’s version the Mexican village is exchanged for a small mining town named Rose Creek and Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue  is the vile industrialist terrorizing them. Washington takes Brynner’s spot. He plays Sam Chisolm who is approached by a young woman from Rose Creek (Haley Bennett) seeking help.

Sam agrees but first he’ll need a team of gunfighters to train the townsfolk and lead the defense against Bogue and his gang. His merry band of wild west outcasts includes a boozing gambler (Chris Pratt), an ex-confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), a deadly assassin (Byung-hun Lee), a wanted Mexican bandit (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a big burly tracker (Vincent D’Onofrio), and a disillusioned Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier).

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Fuqua, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk do a good job of building a fun camaraderie between their characters. It’s one of the film’s key ingredients since it genuinely wants to be a buddy-cowboy picture. There is plenty of playful banter, ribbing, and jests but never too much. That’s because it’s also aiming for something more – an old school western.

Watching the movie I couldn’t help but feel a little bit nostalgic. Fuqua tips his Stetson to a number of classic western angles both narratively and visually. His use of the camera is fantastic (great cinematography from another “Training Day” alumni Mauro Fiore) and the score features some of the last work of the late great James Horner. And you’ll clearly notice Fuqua channeling from an assortment of western directors from John Ford to Sergio Leone.

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Expect some fierce and energetic action especially in the inevitable final showdown (which is especially fun). Following a familiar blueprint each character is given their moment to show off their gun-twirling, knife throwing, or dynamite-chunking. What you won’t see is any deeper sense of emotional struggle between these characters. We get glimpses of it especially from one specific character but never enough to divert it from its clear desire to be a straightforward action film.

That leaves “The Magnificent Seven” open to reasonable criticism. It’s not a deep contemplative character study or emotionally heavy drama. It certainly misses some opportunities to incorporate those elements which may have made it a better film. But I’m fine with it since that isn’t what this film is aiming to be. It’s an action romp and Denzel and company pull it off nicely. They are clearly having a blast doing it and I must say I did too.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

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23 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Magnificent Seven” (2016)

  1. This was entertaining enough but it is so driven to be a piece of entertainment that it misses the spirit of a real western. The best scene in the film is when the team first arrives in Rose Creek. The showdown there had some tension and a solid payoff. The last act is just over the top action which never focused much on the characters, and when it did, stumbled. There was a lot to like but not much to love.

    • ‘Entertaining’ has always been a heavy influence on my ratings. This one had that. I actually thought it had fun with many different western tropes. It’s very modern but it never lost its western flavor (for me). And I thought the last act was a lot of fun and gave each character their moments. It was exciting when the shined and the losses meant something. Maybe not as much as possible, but enough for me.

  2. Good review man, the entertainment factor wasn’t as high for me but I take your point completely that this particular western wasn’t aiming for something more than just a standard action flick with some jokes thrown in. I expected more from it but it wasn’t that bad. I think I was too harsh with what I said about it on my review…..

    • I fully expected to get the modern remake treatment – more of a spoof that remake. Thankfully it wasn’t that. I felt it was tipping its hat to several westerns and I thought Fuqua’s camera was was great. And Denzel…he is so fun to watch when he is having fun with a role.

  3. Keith, I’m right there with you. I really enjoyed this because I have a soft spot for traditional westerns- makes me think about my dad and spending time with him watching his faves. I agree that this film is strictly for entertainment and I had a lot of fun with it. Nice review!

      • Good point. And I don’t feel I gave them enough credit in the review. They had such good chemistry. I’ve come to the realization that Denzel can do anything.

    • Thanks so much. I truly believe this film has been to easily dismissed by some. For me it did what so many of this year’s blockbuster type movies didn’t. It entertained me from start to finish. It was simply fun. Also I completely agree with you about the nostalgia. That just added to it.

  4. Nice one, Keith. To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited for this but you had me when you mentioned Sergio Leone. You’ve captured my interest with your enthusiasm for it.

    • It’s a fun movie. Now to be perfectly open, this isn’t a movie made in the style of a Leone film. There are times though where his use of the camera or staging of a scene seem to be influenced by Leone. Fuqua plays with these things but ultimately makes a straightforward fun action movie.

  5. Well said. Sure, it won’t move you in any profound way, but it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: show you a good time. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in the future!

  6. I really like your point on entertaining, Keith. I hate relying on that word so much whenever I talk about a film, but we watch to be entertained, whether an action, horror, drama, or sci-fi, right?

    I feel like this movie, especially in the aftermath of a crappy 2016 blockbuster season, would have been great as a summer tentpole (late May-Mid June especially). It’s doing OK now but slightly underwhelming at the box office. Might have made a killing this summer. It is that entertaining imo, would love to watch again on the big screen.

    • I would like to see it again as well. You’re right, relying on the “entertaining” description too much doesn’t help. But I often think some critics don’t take it into consideration enough. Often it is a reflection of the type of film being made. Nothing heavy or groundbreaking. Just well made entertainment. This one nailed that for me.

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