Review: “The Magnificent Seven” – Watered Down… Again

Written by Jesse Gelinas October 01, 2016

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You know the old adage that if you make a copy of something you lose some of the original’s purity? Like if you clone Michael Keaton, and then clone the clone, somehow it’s not quite as sharp as the first one? Well, remaking a remake is a lot like that. Seven Samurai is a wonderful tale of heroism, marred by the miserable realization of a pyrrhic victory. The Magnificent Seven (1960) took that great story, and moved it to the American west. It lost a touch of its edge, but was still a pretty damn good film, framed with an iconic score that is still celebrated today. The Magnificent Seven (2016) does not have these qualities. And while it’s by no means a sacrilegious trampling of its predecessors, it doesn’t do nearly enough to justify its existence.

*Spoilers below*

The film begins in the tiny frontier town of Rose Creek. The townsfolk are meeting to discuss what to do about Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), an ambitious industrialist intent on driving them from their homes in order to mine the area for gold. Bogue arrives and his men slaughter a few locals to send a message, threatening to return in three weeks to claim his town. Newly-widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) seeks protection for her home, and vengeance for her husband’s murder. She finds hope in warrant officer, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who recruits a team of western archetypes: a lone native warrior (Martin Sensmeier), a drunk gambler (Chris Pratt), a soldier past his glory days (Ethan Hawke), and his Asian muscle (Byung-hun Lee), a Mexican bandit (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a fat hunter (Vincent D-Onofrio). The Magnificent Seven then ride to Rose Creek to save the day or die trying.

“Money for blood is a peculiar business.”

It’s a very simple setup, which is fine for a Western, but The Magnificent Seven just gets lazy with it. Chisolm is hired, and immediately has an entire team in mind, and luckily enough, all of them are on the way to Rose Creek. He recruits a gambler he just met for no real reason. He looks for an old soldier he knows, and a tracker he’s heard of. The final one, Red Harvest the Native warrior, just sort of falls into his lap. The team is assembled and immediately gains a strange sense of self-righteousness, even though they’re mainly mercenaries and criminals. Granted, the way they meet isn’t the focus; it’s their heroic deeds. But again, that wasn’t even the point of this story to begin with.

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The film takes most of its cues from its predecessor (the first western remake, not Seven Samurai), but without the same impact. It just sort of trudges along, slowly approaching its predictable and underwhelming climax. And when the dust has settled, and the blood’s been spilled (yes, some of the Seven die), we’re left with a sense of half-assed triumph as their sassy benefactor narrates that their deeds made them legends. Unlike the previous two films that ended on a much more sour note, focusing instead on the great loss of life associated with saving the town. The victory was short-lived, and bittersweet. Not so this time around. Justice is served. Rose Creek is saved, in flames, but saved. It’s a strangely naïve note to leave the film on, considering the modern western’s penchant for gritty realism, and bleak outlooks.

“Leave the bodies where they lay. Let them look at them a few days.”

There is enough charisma on screen at any given time for most of the scenes to be at least somewhat entertaining. Denzel does his usual tough guy shtick. Ethan Hawke is pretty great as the former Confederate suffering from a serious case of PTSD. D’Onofrio seems to be having great fun with his role. The only one who seems a little out of place is Pratt, who’s sarcasm, and modern charm don’t quite jive with the “classic western” feel they seem to be going for. He pulls it off, but just. The standout is Sarsgaard, as is usually the case with him. His Bart Bogue is just evil enough to be menacing, and just sniveling enough to be pitiful. It’s not a fresh character, plucked from just about any decade of Western cinema, but he makes it his own and carries the film when he’s on screen.

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The Magnificent Seven isn’t without its qualities. The score, in part composed by James Horner (his last before his death) has both a classic flair, as well as a fresh modern twist. It helps some of the more overlong scenes feel like they’re moving. There is even a respectful nod to the original film with a playing of the iconic theme song during the credits. It’s a nice touch, but feels a little hollow, just like the rest of the film.

“This is not land. The moment I came over that valley and laid my eyes upon it, it was no longer land. It was… dust.”

The Magnificent Seven isn’t bad, really. It’s just not great. And with its lineage, it needed to be great, otherwise what’s the point? The film feels like a shallow, by-the-numbers update of the original, but without any of the same care or impact. I was surprised to see the script was penned by Nic Pizzolatto, who can usually, at the very least, shine up a ho-hum story with some great dialogue. Then again, he may still be reeling from the horror show that was the second season of True Detective. Regardless, The Magnificent Seven brings nothing new to its classic story, and sadly pales in comparison to its predecessors.

My Rating: 6/10

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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