Antoine Fuqua's THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
A missed opportunity is what I would call this film but I can't put my finger on a single thing to justify that comment.
The cast is terrific. Denzel Washington exudes authority as the leader of the Seven and matches both Yul Brynner and Takashi Shimura in charisma. Peter Sarsgaard as the evil land baron projects a soulless evil through glinting, beady eyes. Smaller parts are well done, the stunt work is unendingly exciting, and the photography at times projects the vast open spaces of Westerns from the past.
And yet... it seems too "by the book." Sometimes the dialog seems slapped on at the last minute, as if someone said, "Let's have Chris Pratt make a quip here." Action sequences are difficult to follow geographically. The sky changes color abruptly from scene to scene.
Perhaps most significant is that the character of the townspeople is not really developed along with any relationships they develop with the Seven. This fundamentally alters the moral theme that is being played out here.
In both the Kurosawa film and the Brynner/McQueen version the struggle between good and evil is elevated to a central focus of the film. Here it's just good versus evil with a rousing big battle at the end. Yes, Sarsgaard's character is evil and yes he is hateful and ruthless throughout the film and yes he gets his comeuppance at the end.
The theme of revenge is important to the film, no question. But we don't really get to understand that till the end. Were there scenes filmed that provided backstory for the Denzel character that were left on the cutting room floor? Perhaps. But we could say that about a lot of the characters in this film. Their motivations and backstories are really underplayed and because of that we don't really get to know them other than through their fighting skills.
Perhaps in the extended edition of the film we'll get to see a more complete view. Or perhaps, just a better job of editing would make this film resonate more dramatically and raise it above the "just another action film" category.
Review copyright (c) 2016 by Dennis D. McDonald