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The Magnificent Seven - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Magnificent Seven
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

The original Magnificent Seven, itself based on the Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai from six years prior, came out 56 years ago. A lot of movies from that era hold up today, but The Magnificent Seven really isn't one of them. It's rare that a remake truly surpasses the original, but the current Magnificent Seven does just that. Or, at the very least, it updates it competently to contemporary sensibilities. If we're being honest, it's probable that this movie won't hold up any better 56 years from now than John Sturges' Western does now.

But the now is what matters, right? Or at least, how we look at our history now. This Magnificent Seven by Antoine Fuqua (whose Training Day earned Denzel Washington an Oscar win and Ethan Hawke an Oscar nomination) is a straightforward and satisfying entertainment. Rather than pandering to a perceived audience lust for immediate gratification of action set pieces, it methodically builds to a thrilling climax, unfolding the story like a classic Western should.

There are still some problems. Making four of the seven none-whites who are each of distinctly different races comes across as a bit self-conscious, bordering on tokenism. Denzel Washington plays Chisolm, their leader, the one who assembles the other six, and although this is post-Civil War, mid-nineteenth-century, not once does any character mention or even appear to notice his race. Really? He plays a bounty hunter and "licensed peace officer" who works for the government; fine, I'll buy that. But every single person at this point in history literally ignores his race? I know this is escapism entertainment, but come on.

And to say that the way some of these seven guys come together is contrived would be a wild understatement -- especially when it comes to the dashing young Native American (Martin Sensmeier, playing a character named Red Harvest), who just happens upon the rest of them and decides to join them after declaring his "path is different" from the rest of his people. What? Chisolm can speak his language. Oh, okay.

There's also a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Ethan Hawke's Goodnight Robicheaux comes as a package deal with his Korean friend Billy Rocks (Goodnight Robicheaux). Rounding out the group are Vincent D'Onofrio, both slightly and delightfully unhinged as tracker Jack Horne, and our second-billed name, Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday. So our Magnificent Seven of 2016 includes three white guys (Faraday is of Irish descent and has a drinking problem, if that counts for anything), a Black guy, a Mexican guy, a Native American guy, and an Asian guy. Check, check, check, check and check.

I haven't even mentioned the villain yet, and Peter Sarsgaard is at the top of his game as Bartholomew Bogue, the leader of the pack of criminals armed to the teeth and overrunning this small town of simple farmers and miners. He kills a man in cold blood in the street who dares to challenge him, and it's his widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), who happens upon Chisolm and hires him to defend her town. This is another clearly calculated update to the 1960 version of this movie, which had only one notable female role, and was about as stereotyped as anyone else in that movie. Having a woman who is willing to take up arms and fight alongside the men in the 2016 version can only go so far to mean much -- this is still a movie overrun with men, after all; a sausage party is still a sausage party. But, to Fuqua's credit, he knew this was the only way to make it work for today's audiences. And Haley Bennet is a memorable and formidable screen presence.

Much of The Magnificent Seven details simply gathering the hired guns to defend the town while Bartholomew Bogue is out of town; making plans on how to defend the town upon his return; and attempting to train the simple town residents to fight. The pacing is just right, with just enough bits of subtle humor here and there, to keep this movie entertaining even before any of the action sequences begin. And by the time Bogue is returning with his small army to attempt to take back his town, we've spent just enough time with all of these people to be emotionally invested and not just dazzled by the execution of the climactic battle.

But I have to say: that climactic battle is impressively staged. This is no CGI spectacular, although presumably visual effects were still used -- this is simply a well-choreographed, huge battle. No one's going to snooze through this one. It's the kind of thing you come to this movie for, and it delivers right on schedule.

The dialogue throughout the movie can be a little trite and uneven, but there are several lines lifted directly from the 1960 version and used in slightly different ways, which, if you remember the original (and I only do because I watched it for the first time three days before), is fun to notice. What makes the movie work is the action and the actors themselves, who manage to transcend the risk of tokenism and make each of their characters unique and multi-dimensional.

It's true that if there were multiple Westerns available in cinemas right now, this Magnificent Seven would likely be neither the best nor the worst of them. Compared to the vast numbers of Westerns in American cinema history, it simply works, and it works well -- and it's what we've got right now. On its own terms, with its winning performances, well, it still wins. Anyone with a fondness for the genre will enjoy it.

This MAGNIFICENT SEVEN works much better for 2016.

Overall: B+
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