Saturday, October 8, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

I know, I know - I'm a hypocrite.  All I ever seem to do is bitch complain about how Hollywood is gutless, lacks imagination and sticks the audience with Superhero Movie #498 and endless remakes.  So what did I do?  Practically wet my pants when I saw the teaser trailer for The Magnificent Seven.  Not only a remake, but the second remake.  So why was I so excited about this movie?  In case you're new around here:

1) Western
2) Denzel.  As a cowboy.
3) Western
4) Cowboy Denzel.
5) Western
6) Denzel riding a horse. Oh, and he's a cowboy.

I walked into this movie wanting one thing, and one thing only.  A Popcorn Movie.  I wasn't expecting Citizen Kane.  I was expecting cowboys, cowboys shooting bad guys, action, and fun.  Basically if Ocean's Eleven was a western - that's kind of what I wanted.  I wasn't expecting depth.  I wasn't expecting deep.  So what did I get?  Well....

The story opens in a traditional, throw-back, heavy-handed sort of way.  Peter Sarsgaard is our one-dimensional villain, a robber baron mine owner named Bogue who wants to run everybody off their land because...well, he wants it.  An altercation at the town church leaves Emma Cullen's husband, Matthew (Matt Bomer in a blink and you'll miss him role) dead.  Emma and some other guy (named Teddy Q, their relationship isn't really explained), end up another town over or so which is where they meet Chislom (Denzel) a bounty hunter who rides in and shoots up half the saloon.  They convince him to help dispatch of Bogue, and in turn pick up wandering gambler Faraday (Chris Pratt).

On their way back to town they recruit confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his knife-throwing partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), ex-Indian hunter (niiiice) Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), and a lone Comanche with no tribe, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). 

One of the reviews I read slammed the use of the cast - basically saying that hey, it's great that we have a diverse cast but they're literally shallow pools.  To be fair?  None of these characters, regardless of race or ethnicity can be confused with "deep."  This is a very surface movie.  Even Denzel, who is The Star, is kept at arm's length.  Further highlighting the shallowness is that there are frustrating teasing glimpses of what could have been.  The relationship between Goodnight and Billy Rocks is destined to launch a thousand slash-fiction ships (and I'd read them all).  There's a history between Chisholm and Goodnight that doesn't really go anywhere.  Jack Horne made a living hunting Indians and now he's fighting alongside a Comanche.  Vasquez is a wanted man recruited by the bounty-hunting Chisholm.  Faraday is the comic relief but beneath the surface you can detect self-loathing.  There's a lot of dynamics that could be put in play here that never really are.

What we have is a movie that clocks in at a smidge over 2 hours, and that's the problem.  It's an action movie and given the plot you know there has to be a fair amount of time spent on the fight to free the town.  The big long action scene is great, but what is sacrificed along the way is any sort of character development that goes beyond the surface broad strokes.  Everything about this movie, from the surface-only characters to the music to the villain is about as subtle as a sledgehammer and it's all telegraphed very early on.

All that being said, I didn't hate this - and I didn't hate it for a couple of reasons.  1) Those teasing glimpses are compelling and 2) Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen is a revelation.  If you are a romance author, especially if you write historical westerns - heck, even if you're just thinking about it?  This is a romance heroine right here.  When everybody else in town is too scared to fight, she goes out and finds Chisholm.  She doesn't dissolve into a puddle of goo when she gets around all those handsome men with dubious reputations and she gets to shoot a rifle.  A lot.  And she doesn't need any of the men to TEACH her how to shoot that rifle!  She already knows how and she's darn good at it!  This. Girl. Is. Awesome.

I can see all the faults of this movie (which I've just blathered on ad nauseam about...) and you know what?  I'm not sure I care.  And if you are already inclined to like westerns and, you know, Cowboy Denzel?  You'll likely feel the same way I did.  If you're ho-hum on westerns?  This one is unlikely to change you mind.

Western Fanatic Wendy Grade = B-
More Realistic Grade = C-

Final Note: Given the plot of this movie it's a given that not everybody is going to walk out alive.  Even though the characterizations are mighty thin, I still found myself kind of bummed about that - although who ends up living and who ends up dying is a fairly compelling statement unto itself. 


azteclady said...

Now I need to know whether you saw the remake of True Grit and your thoughts on it. I have access to it, but I've chickened out watching it.

And, Cowboy Denzel? Excellent heroine? 'nuff for me.

Brie said...

I enjoyed it! I didn't go in with high expectations, so that probably helped, but it was fine. I agree that she would be a perfect romance heroine and I really liked that she's not a damsel in distress or a love interest. Like you said the characters had no depth whatsoever, and the plan to defeat the bad guys was bananas (but SPOILER not as bananas as the villain waiting to use the whatever that machine gun thing was at the end END OF SPOILER), but this is just a fun action movie, so not much else to expect. It sure was better than Suicide Squad! LOL

Bona Caballero said...

I love Denzel, really, but I think I will not see this one. I like cinema as an art, not just the movies, so this movie makes me very sad, as if someone has taken the Mona Lisa and paints a graffitti on her. All the poetry, the amazing performances, the ambiguous ideals and the melancholy of Kurosawa's masterpiece have been Transformed into 'this'? No. Thnk u. If I wanted to see a pop corn movie I go and see a Marvel movie or any other action blockbuster or a Bourne movie... At least they don't make mockery of a piece of art. I didn't like the previous remake for the same reason. Even though Denzel as a cowboy is very tempting. Why couldn't they write an original script? A new story? Why ??

Wendy said...

AL: She's the lone female character of any consequence in the script - so it was nice to see that they didn't eff it up. She was the highlight of the movie for me.

Brie: I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop to see if they'd pair her up with Chris Pratt's character and thank you lord - they never did. AND SHE DOESN'T NEED TO BE RESCUED IN THE END! Seriously. Loved her.

Bona: I would have loved a new script - unfortunately Hollywood has gotten so concerned over the bottom line that anything that could be deemed a risk is passed over for "sure things" - like remakes, superheroes and sequels. The other element at play is that this was a western - which tend to not do as well overseas and they're expensive to make. So attaching Denzel and trotting out yet another remake of Kurosawa's film is seen as the safer bet.

~ames~ said...

I wanted to see this only for the cowboy Denzel. So I'm glad despite your quibbles, you liked it.