Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Magnificent Seven

Title: The Magnificent Seven

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 
Mr. Bergstrom: And there were a few Jewish cowboys; big guys who were great shots and spent money freely.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Seven and the ragged Sarsgaard. 

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Sandinista! albums out of five.
Tagline: "Justice has a number."

Better Tagline: "Regulators: assemble."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) is a bad man, as befits the name "Bart." He's attempting to take over the town of Rose Creek because it...sits too close to his gold mine, or something. Fed up with Bogue always killing her husband, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) enlists the aid of bounty hunter Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), who agrees, for largely unknown personal reasons. He, in turn, recruits gunfighter Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), former Confederate sniper Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Asian knife enthusiast Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and the rest. Can they defeat Bogue and his men in between slightly anachronistic quips? And why is Chisholm always wearing that scarf?

"Critical" Analysis: The Western has existed as a movie genre for more than a hundred years, so it's understandable if many of its tropes are recognizable to even the most casual of viewers: the cowboy astride his horse, landscapes of stark stone formations giving way to the lone prairie, creased faces that have never known the caress of sunblock. You go into one knowing what to expect while waiting to see what new twists the filmmakers have brought to the table.

On one hand, Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven gets a fair bit right. The locations are stunning, (some of) the heroes are epic, the villain is dastardly and James Horner's final score is both evocative of the 1960 original while standing on its own merits. On the other, almost none of it is in the slightest bit original, and only a handful of characters rise above the level of genre parody.

Visually, the movie is striking. There's a sumptuousness to Mauro Fiore's cinematography, which offers a nice change of pace from the recent tendency toward desolation Westerns. Fuqua is also — as he's shown us in Training Day and The Equalizer — a capable action a point. Because as in The Equalizer, the violence in The Magnificent Seven swan-dives into absurdity in the third act.

Unfortunately, The Magnificent Seven is nothing if not predictable. Even if you haven't seen the 1960 original, or The Seven Samurai (the Akira Kurosawa movie upon which both are based), you're familiar with the story. A hero, after entreaties from a victimized farmer/miner/villager, assembles a ragtag band of desperadoes to help them fight back. Seven is the accepted number of outlaws (you know that old children's tale from the sea), though here it's fairly arbitrary; only Chisholm and Robicheaux (and Cullen) are fleshed out in any meaningful fashion. The others were possibly selected to fill arbitrary ethnic slots (Asian, Mexican, Native American, born-again mountain man).

Martin Sensmeier's Comanche character is named "Red Harvest," by the way, which is pretty cool. Apparently "Blood Harvest" was a little on the nose. Fuqua also doesn't seem to know what to do with Pratt. He's second-billed, but just when you think Farraday is purely comic gunfighter relief, he has a moment of almost pure psychosis. It's weirdly off-putting.

Beyond that, screenwriters Richard Wenk (16 Blocks, The Mechanic) and Nic Pizzolatto (one good season of True Detective) are more interested in homages to other "oaters" as well. Aside from the original M7, there are shout-outs to Shane, Hang 'Em High, The Wild Bunch and, most curiously, Blazing Saddles.

It would be interesting to find out how aware of the various references Fuqua was, because it seems impossible that he could have been wholly ignorant of stuff like: Chisholm's pleading with them in true Sheriff Bart fashion for just a little more time to prepare for Bogue's men; the gunman with performance issues (Hawke); a bad guy in a waistcoat bent on ill-gotten real estate acquisitions ("Land: see 'snatch'"); frontier gibberish (D'Onofrio); strategic dynamite; desperate townsfolk discussing their options in a church; and a collection of shitkickers and Methodists riding in for a #6 (they even beat up the preacher — have you ever seen such cruelty?). Baked beans are also featured.

Then again, as Gene Wilder tributes go, it's not bad.

Still, it's undeniably cool to watch Washington dispatch with more men than Cecil B. DeMille, including a bunch of racist outlaws in the film's opening scene, or Pratt's smirking lethality, or Hawke channeling his best Val Kilmer-as-Doc Holliday. The Magnificent Seven is far from a great movie, and it continues the recent trend of remakes that fall far short of the original, but it's got heart, and sometimes that's (barely) enough.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar