Review: Magnificent Seven
Director: Antoine Fuqua
By Rhys Tarling
Antoine Fuqua makes slick films that, though always directed with clarity and style, still arrive to cineplexes compromised in some obvious way. Two of them trade exclusively in masculine clichés, Southpaw, Shooter. One is cruel and humourlessly stupid, Olympus Has Fallen. And his best received picture has an all-timer of a performance by Denzel, Training Day. There is nothing compromised about Training Day. Great flick. Fuqua’s latest, the remake of The Magnificent Seven, is Fuqua laying all of his cards on the table: it’s well staged, handsome, joyless despite the cast clearly having a great time, cliched, and contains a great Denzel performance.
A corrupt industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard) besieges a small mining town. Fearing another attack, one of the locals enlists in the help of a warrant officer (Denzel Washington). He recruits six gunslingers, each who has a speciality that is never integrated into the plot in any way that is memorable or not obvious (Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and Byung-Hun Lee). The seven train the citizens of the small mining town to defend themselves from another attack.
The first half of The Magnificent Seven is strictly concerned with their assembly. It goes on forever, and despite competently doing the business of the plot, feels aimless. Their introductions are unmemorable, due in no small part to these charismatic actors barely being asked to inhabit authentic characters. No, they’re more like a collection of attributes with a personality quirk or two. Which would be fine, except that when the audience is asked to buy into, or even care about, certain things that happen later in the film, things that could’ve been effective, it has no grounds to register. To compound matters, the tone of it is so self-serious and strangely punishing; a lot of brutality and gritted teeth in service of themes that are either shallow or at odds with the text. Some genuine humour and a sense of fun would’ve gone a long way to make the sloppiness palatable. Alas, one gunslinger making a halfway amusing crack and the ripple of manful giggling that follows is the closest to levity.
Chris Pratt, arguably the hottest of these stars, more or less coasts on easy charm without eliciting an ounce of real affection, definitively proving that we loved him in Guardians of the Galaxy because we loved his well-written character. Vincent D’Onofrio finds interesting and unusual choices to make with the meagre bits he’s given in a heroic effort to hold our attention from moment to moment. Unfortunately, he is not given enough moments. Denzel is who he was in Training Day, i.e. stern authority granted impossible coolness, only in this case he’s on the path of the righteous. The very reality of the film warps when he’s at the centre of the frame, making you believe that you’re watching something far more important than slick, loud, sort of diverting entertainment. If only the script could match his power or D’Onofrio’s strangeness.
The Magnificent Seven is not proactively bad. Indeed, its biggest crime is that all the effort of craftsmen and the actors has been funnelled, with militant purpose, in the direction of mediocrity. The Magnificent Seven wills you to forget as soon as the lights go back on.