Monday, January 23, 2017

Not So Magnificent

One of the "blind spots" in my movie viewing is the classic film The Magnificent Seven. (I also haven't seen its original inspiration, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.) Unfortunately, my desire to ever attend to this oversight has probably shrunk now that I've watched the recent 2016 remake of the Western -- and been thoroughly underwhelmed by it.

This remake had some respected names behind the scenes that generated a lot of buzz: Antoine Fuqua was the director, while the script was written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. I should have focused more on my reaction to the past work of those people. I didn't like Fuqua's Training Day nearly as much as most, and my reaction to Pizzolatto's HBO series True Detective was as negative about the first season as most people felt about the second.

Even with my frame of mind adjusted accordingly, I still might have given the movie a shot because of its terrific cast. Among the titular "seven" are Denzel Washington (cool and intimidating), Chris Pratt (irreverent and quippy), Ethan Hawke (stoic but haunted), and Vincent D'Onofrio (vanishing as usual into a different character, this time a religious tracker). Peter Sarsgaard is there to chew scenery as the despicable villain. The ingredients for a great stew are here.

Yet nothing simmers. Each of the characters in this film are tissue thin and painfully cliche. The actors I mention above (and some lesser-known names like Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and Haley Bennett) are all clearly having fun with their roles. But only at times does their fun translate well to the audience. The story's beats are all too familiar, and quite slowly paced at nearly two hours and 15 minutes.

The movie isn't "bad" by any means. It's more that it just feels inessential. You've seen this story before, even if you haven't seen many Westerns. You've seen these actors do their thing more effectively in other films. And at a pure action level, a straightforward Western just isn't built to deliver the high octane thrills of the average blockbuster.

I give the 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven a C-. Really, that shouldn't have any bearing on whether I eventually see the original. But it'll probably be a while.

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