Antoine Fuqua always feels far away from making a truly great film. It’s been 15 years since he made Training Day, a film that feels just a little dated. Some of us here at Bago Games find that his 2013 White House action film, Olympus Has Fallen, is really entertaining, maybe even good. The Magnificent Seven isn’t going to change anyone’s minds on the director. In fact, it solidified my opinion that he doesn’t know what goes into making a good film, and a good movie this is not. Especially when you compare it to two of the greatest films within their respective genres, Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven (1960). But is there anything redeeming about this version?
In case you’re not familiar with the 1960 Western of the same name, The Magnificent Seven is about the efforts of seven men to rescue a town from the corrupt oilman, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). After her husband is murdered by Bogue, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) asks for the help of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). From that point, the two work to find the remaining six to help rid the town of Bogue’s men. Among the Seven is *deep breath* the gambling drunk, part time magician, and racist Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt); the angel of death and master sharpshooter, Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke); Goodnight’s sword-friendly buddy, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); the bear like tracker, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio); Comanche warrior, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier); and the Mexican outlaw, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).
This version of the film takes few liberties with the prior source material and that’s a real shame. The idea of flipping the races of most of the seven adds a timeliness to the proceedings that’s never followed through with. As refreshing as it is for minority characters to not be explicitly defined by their race, the film still doesn’t bother trying to flesh any of the characters out. That’s truly a shame in this case when there are so many fun actors oozing charisma. Lee and Hawke are, by far, the highlights in terms of acting. With their characters connection and brotherly camaraderie, the two skilled actors are able to kick ass (Lee mostly) and feel like real people. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for the rest of the cast.
The script by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto and bad action movie scribe Richard Wenk, does little to help these actors bring their characters to life and give them knowable purpose. A couple characters are given last minute motivations; it’s too little too late at that point. With the script comes useless scenes that Fuqua and editor John Refoua don’t know what to do with. At an unnecessary 133 minutes, The Magnificent Seven drags along collecting character after character for what must have been half the film. And when that part is over, we get to the action which is good, just good. Never is there a moment where I could feel a true emotion that wasn’t laughter at the incompetence in front of me.
I don’t want to put blame on any of the actors despite how absurd some of their performances were. Sarsgaard really got to enjoy playing hammy late 19th Century industrialist, while D’Onofrio thought he was playing late era Orson Welles until he was called on this and spoke in one of the most bizarre accents I’ve heard in recent memory. The tone here just doesn’t meld itself into something that feels like a complete and fully realized film. The Magnificent Seven feels like a giant misguided effort that never had the time to find out what direction it was going. No matter how admirable the intentions of updating this film were, Fuqua fails to make anything substantial of it.
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
- Byung-hun Lee and Ethan Hawke are well cast and incredibly entertaining
- Noble cause to update the story with our current racial unrest is admirable
- Rest of the cast is solid, at the very least
- Tone is wildly all over the place
- I don't know what movie D'Onofrio and Sarsgaard thought they were in, but it seems more interesting
- Misguided feeling throughout