I don’t know if I’m gonna like this movie in a year, a month, or a week but right now I really like Antoine Fuqua’s not-terribly brand-new The Magnificent Seven. It’s cinematic junk food, something you don’t need to or want to have all the time, but on those rare occasions you decide to indulge, it really hits the spot in a weird way. It’s also a big middle finger to a current political paradigm, but we’ll get into that later.
There’s nothing that necessarily needs to be told to you about the story at this point. Told first in 1954 as Seven Samurai, then told again in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven for the first time and then told to you time and time and time again in various permutations and ideas and parodies. A town is threatened by a bad man and the people of the town hire seven men to fight back against him.
The town is Rose Creek, the man is Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the people of the town are led by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), and the men are bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), general rogue Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robichaux (Ethan Hawke), animal tracker and possible insane person Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), assassin and knife expert Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
Phew. That’s a lot of names. I will one day be more graceful with those parts, I swear.
But yeah, same stuff, different day. I can’t say overall that this film necessarily does anything terribly new cinematically with the whole premise. Much of that, and much of what I bet people are going to ultimately have problems with in this film rest on Fuqua. Fuqua is not a good filmmaker, let’s just be upfront about that. He seems to have major problems with staging action and developing his characters and making his movies not feel stilted as all get out. And none of those things are really alleviated in Magnificent Seven. This is a film that succeeds in spite of its filmmaking, not necessarily because of it.
Is it the cast? I mean, sort of, yeah. There’s not a whole lot of character to anyone in particular, so most of the cast is pretty much subsisting on their own charisma. Which works in the favor of Washington, Pratt, and Hawke, to no surprise, given their careers have subsisted largely on their own abilities to sell their material no matter the movie. It surprisingly also helps Lee, who proves that he has a natural sort of bad-ass charisma that could make him a big deal in Hollywood. Everyone else is at least good to fine, doing enough to make their way through the film and keep the material ging.
And then there’s D’Onofrio. I don’t…I don’t…I have no idea what he’s doing here. Fully and honestly. I have never been so much at a loss for what an actor is doing in a movie. At one point, the man twists a knife to kill another man while screaming “CLEAR EYES CLEAR VISION” in a voice that sounds like being choked by a helium tank. There is no basis in anything, historical or cinematic, that I understand for this character. He’s a religious man. Maybe he’s an angel? I mean it when I say I legitimately could not tell you what’s going on.
So, yeah, a solid cast working in a not super well-made movie. Actually a reasonably successful way to make a modern blockbuster. It will never be sufficiently explained to me why this didn’t come out during the summer of 2016 when it would have been the better of a bad summer instead of the somewhat forgettable place it’s going to have in the year. It’s an enjoyable enough film that actually feels relevant right now.
Partially because it is a film about heroism. Perhaps that is ultimately what I responded to about it. It’s a film about people setting aside their own interests or putting their lives on the line for what they believe is good and right in the world. That’s something special, and something to really admire in a film. Even with a couple adjustments to the story, especially the addition of a late-game reason for Chisolm to be so attached to the possibility of victory here, there’s a selfless heroism to this story, and maybe we need one of those these days.
Partially because it’s a big-ass middle finger to the Trumpist conception of America. This is a film about people from all across America and all parts of America. It’s no mistake that our heroes are diverse enough to be the front of a college brochure. It’s no mistake that our villain is a man singlemindedly devoted to business at the expense of those people. It’s the idea that there is no one group that owns this country and that it rewrites the history of the country that all have been heroes. Saying it’s revisionist is cliche, but yeah, this is a revisionist film.
Ultimately, I don’t know if I can actually tell you this is a great picture. It’s fun and it made me feel good. Your mileage may vary on the quality, but I’ve definitely had much worse times at the movies, and there’s something worthwhile in a film devoted to an all-encompassing American heroism.