Film Review: The Magnificent Seven (USA, 2016) is not hard to enjoy

John Sturges’ 1960 American Western has been polished and updated with a culturally diverse – for the sake of being culturally diverse – cast and a keen eye on box office glory. Antoine Fuqua’s updated version of The Magnificent Seven is a successful outing in this sense, roping in the likes of a sullen Denzel Washington, slick Chris Pratt, and strangely erratic Ethan Hawke to re-tell this story about a ragtag group of gun-slinging cowboys-for-hire coming together to protect a small, vulnerable town from a very well-connected villain. It’s a story that can be traced all the way back to Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece The Seven Samurai, but instead of depth and development Fuqua has chosen to go with his half-excellent, heavily stylised kitchen-sink approach.

The Magnificent Seven plays very much like your predictable, formulaic big-budget action flick in 2016, just the situation is vastly different; there are no superheroes here, only antiheroes looking to kick some ass for really confusing and unexplained reasons. However, it’s not Washington’s quietly effective Sam Chisholm or Pratt’s bad-boy Faraday that strengthens Fuqua’s remake, it’s long-time collaborator Mauro Fiore, the cinematographer who works wonders throughout the film, playing with scale and exploring the wild west with an epic – though contained – energy.

For example, when the titular group of mercenaries enter Rose Creek, the village they are meant to protect, Fiore is more concerned about taking us through the various angles of the town before focusing in on the dusty narrow strip that leads to the local church, an important location for various scenes. Or when the extended – well-done – action set turns into an all-out blood bath, Fiore is right there to help compartmentalise it all and convey the various stages that keep the battle going with wide-eyed excitement. Fiore is very much the superhero behind the scenes.

Peter Sarsgaard has a mildly exciting turn as brilliantly named antagonist Batholomew Bogue, but his moody, Malkovich-like (Malkovichian?) performance isn’t really given the screen time necessary to truly capitalise on what could have been a great character. Instead, the film is hogged by Washington, who is fine but not remarkable – and we all know he can be – as he is recruited by a desperate Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and spends most of the film assembling a group of avengers idiosyncratic spaghetti-western types to battle with Bogue.

The quest to form a capable group is fun to watch but it comes together much too easily, Fuqua keeping things a bit too simple as he introduces us to the likes of nimble assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), his sharpshooting partner Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), underused Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), outlier Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – who may or may not have time traveled and plucked his name from the cold war era – and idiosyncratic Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), an aging, violent tracker who wields an axe and has D’Onofrio switching up accents like there’s no tomorrow. Pratt’s cocky character rounds it all out and gives us a team that, while ultimately uninteresting, makes for great, simple on-screen chemistry.

The problem here is in the writing. Aside from Chisholm – whose reasons are kept as a saw-it-coming reveal – these characters lack any believable motivations, so investing in their oddly determined, life-risking, noble arcs is difficult. You also have a thin attempt at sketching Hawke’s Robicheaux with a case of PTSD, portrayed well by the veteran actor until the plot just drops off and the time before and after the trauma remains completely unexplored. It’s bad enough Red Savage has one line to explain his reasons for joining the party before being relegated to rooftop-arrow-guy (seriously, even old school RPG’s come up with more believable motivations).

Despite odd, clumsy developments, it’s not hard to enjoy what Fuqua is presenting here, a big action film that trumps the likes of Suicide Squad and Ghostbusters by not even attempting to be anything but eye candy designed to blaze the box office. Western fans will enjoy the subtle winks at older, superior films, and those who just want to see Denzel Washington be Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt be Chris Pratt will relish as the film patiently builds towards an epic, excessively violent – though bloodless – showdown. At the end of the day, I guess that’s all that matters in a year full of disappointments; we’ll take what we can get.


Running Time: 133 minutes

The Magnificent Seven is out in Australian cinemas from tomorrow, Thursday 29th September.


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.