The Magnificent Seven review: Denzel fires blanks - then it turns into Sholay

  • Rohan Naahar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 24, 2016 12:28 IST
Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt star in The Magnificent Seven.

The Magnificent Seven
Director - Antoine Fuqua
Cast - Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard
Rating - 3/5

The Magnificent Seven is a spectacular picture; a breathtaking, action-packed spectacle about racism, capitalism, greed and honour. It revives the Western, a dying genre that was once beloved, with respect, wit and charm.

… Is what I’d hoped I’d begin this review with.

But no such luck. The Magnificent Seven, like many of its sharp-shooting heroes, hits a tiny target. But unfortunately, it is a target it was not supposed to hit. You see, Antoine Fuqua’s remake of a remake is neither good nor bad – both equally reasonable ways for a movie to turn out. It is, instead, mediocre – the kind of film that will probably be forgotten by the time Fuqua finishes work on his next one.

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This is often the case with such movies. While most of them have that greedy glint in their eye that can be spotted from a mile away, this one is different. Yes, it has no reason to exist. But it is put together with such palpable skill, that in the end, the finished film, while emotionally vacant and stylistically unoriginal, works.

And how could it not? Antoine Fuqua is a talented director. You can always count on him to make a solid film. He’s assembled a cast of well-liked actors, led by the always-great Denzel Washington and human charm-bomb that is Chris Pratt. Technically, everything is in place. It’s shot gloriously by Mauro Fiore, and scored (at least partially) by the late, great James Horner.

Count the horses.

So what went wrong? Did something go wrong? If there was any way to have an honest emotional response to this movie, these questions would have answers. It’s possible that this film will divide audiences right down the middle. Those like myself who adore Westerns, will find it familiar, unremarkable, but at the same time, difficult to dismiss outright. Fans of Denzel’s and more undemanding moviegoers however, are probably going to be satisfied – especially with the way it ends.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Look, nostalgia is important – especially for an endangered genre like the Western, but this film absolutely refuses to break the mould. A lone lawman strides into town, enters the saloon, kills all the bad people and glares broodingly at the gathered townsfolk. They’re under threat from a larger-than-life villain, so they seek his help. He is skilled, but his past haunts him. He reluctantly accepts and puts together a team of misfits. And then, a Home Alone-style standoff happens.

But nostalgia can only get you so far. The rest of the burden is placed squarely upon the more-than-worthy shoulders of Denzel Washington – who brings his trademark strut, iconic slouch, and a cocked gun paired with that legendary cocked head. He’s great as the silent hero Sam Chisolm. As is Chris Pratt. But that was expected, right?

Sadly, Chris Pratt is mostly treated as comic relief in this film.

Fuqua utilises a slow-burn approach, taking his time to build the story. His movie is filled with reverent tributes to the classic Westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone – not to mention the original Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai - both films that directly inspired it.

The script, co-written by True Detective creator Nic Pizzollatto, is structured to have maximum impact by the time that explosive finale rolls around. But don’t worry, I’m happy to report that there was not even a single scene that involved Denzel and Pratt having an existential showdown inside a stagecoach. Pizzollatto tries though. Sample these gems: “Fame is a sarcophagus.” And this: “Six pounds of pressure is all it takes to kill a man.” But that’s about it, thankfully.

The Magnificent Seven, assembled together for the first time.

Fuqua’s film is sleek and shiny, like the barrel of Denzel’s gun. It is sweeping, just like the vast landscapes upon which it is set. It ends with one of the most stunning gunfights you could hope for. As the townspeople batten down the hatches and prepare for a last stand against Peter Saarsgaard’s villainous Bartholomew Bogue, the film finally attains the high it should have an hour-and-a-half ago. That finale was a thing of beauty – and honestly, worth the price of admission alone.

Speaking of Peter Sarsgaard, I believe he is the best thing about this movie – despite the fact that he’s in it for just two scenes basically. He’s to this film what Jared Leto was to Suicide Squad, what Anthony Hopkins was to Silence of the Lambs. And then, he spat, “How many men, did you say?”

Now read that in Hindi.

And that’s why you should watch this film.

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The author tweets @NaaharRohan

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