The Magnificent Seven movie review: The film is way past its sell-by date

The Magnificent Seven movie review: Fifty-six years later, Antoine Fuqua movie seems way past its sell-by date, and without bringing little new to the table.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi | Updated: September 23, 2016 6:06 pm
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The Magnificent Seven movie cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard
The Magnificent Seven movie director: Antoine Fuqua

Wise and not-so-old Yul Brynner advised the rest of the magnificent seven in the 1960 film version to not be taken in by their own triumphs. “It’s only a matter of knowing how to shoot a gun. Nothing big about that.”

However, it was never about that, was it? Helmed by John Sturges and bringing together some strikingly handsome men just ageing into adulthood, who would go on to each become stars, 1960’s The Magnificent Seven was a film of its time. Of the wild south, of honourable men who lived by the gun, and of dishonourable bandits with few shades of grey.

Fifty-six years later, The Magnificent Seven seems way past its sell-by date, and without bringing little new to the table. The biggest novelty factor is a Black man in the classical Western, but Fuqua is so eager to impress and so afraid to take chances that Denzel Washington dons the same clothes but never comes close to filling the solemnly dignified shoes of Brynner. The flashy Chris Pratt similarly appears to have stepped over from his other recent successful roles without the lasting charm of Steve McQueen.

Of the rest of the magnificent seven, only Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne, a man who lives by his own set of morals, makes a mark. Ethan Hawke disappoints as the gunman haunted by the string of deaths he has left behind, though there is a slight hint that his dearest friend, a Korean gunman (Byung-hun Lee), could be more than a friend. In the lasting moments of the battle, they end up together on top of a church underneath its resurrected bell — as good as it gets.

The remaining two of the magnificent seven comprise a Mexican, Garcia-Rulfo, and a Red Indian, Sensmeier.

Co-screenwriters Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto claim inspiration from the 1960 version rather than the original The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. However, if both those films were based in villages — Sholay would later take its clues here too — Wenk and Pizzolatto transport the action to one-horse towns in Texas, with saloons, plenty of drinking, and many women flashing legs to go around. In another big difference, it is a woman, Emma (Haley Bennett), who approaches Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to put his team of seven together. She wants them to beat back the rich guy spouting capitalism and eyeing the neighbourhood mine, who moreover has burnt the local church and killed her husband.

That particular baddie, Bogue, is played by a twitching-eye, sullen Peter Sarsgaard, who hardly features in the action when it comes to it.

Even so, Fuqua packs in enough action to have pulled this one off if we could have cared for any of its characters. Sure, they can battle, but can they fight? They bleed, but do they hurt? They may die, but how did they live? You won’t find answers to any of that here, despite the last-ditch attempt to add on a backstory for Chisolm.

In 1960 too, the bandit they overpowered asked the seven this question. “Why?” he wonders, had they come to a village in the middle of nowhere to die. The difference is that, then, they didn’t need to answer.