Fuqua helms Magnificent muddl
There’s much more to making a Western than putting movie stars under Stetson hats, giving them six-shooters and throwing them on a horse. This approach plus poorly choreographed sequences of extended carnage is all director Antoine Fuqua has up his sleeve where his remake of The Magnificent Seven is concerned, a Western made by people who don’t really know much about Westerns. Hoping to capitalize on a familiar title as well as the star power of its two leads, this misguided effort gets bogged down by far too much posturing while providing little in the way of substance.
As seen in the 1960 version of this film featuring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson and Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 original The Seven Samurai, the plot is an exercise in simplicity as well as economy. Bandits are terrorizing a settlement, and what remains of the populace sets out to hire a group of mercenaries to protect them. This time out, the town in question is Rose Creek, Montana, the besieged are farmers, and the bad guy is robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (a horrible Peter Sarsgaard), who’s intent on driving the settlers out so he can take their land and mine for coal. His intentions are made clear from the start with an overwrought opening scene that finds the moustache-twirler ordering his hired guns to burn down a church and kill unarmed sodbusters in the streets in front of their families.
Needlessly punctuated by the ham-fisted score from Simon Franglen and James Horner, this sequence reaches a fever pitch far too early, unable to sustain its sense of horror and justice, instead falling into parody. This sets the tone for the film, which harkens back to the silent era what with its lack of subtlety where the villain’s actions and the heroes’ intentions are concerned. The titular group, consists of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), card sharp Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), wacky mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), knife-thrower extraordinaire Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), vicious fugitive Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and the renegade warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). They’re all brought together during the film’s first 50 minutes, each given a moment in the spotlight so they can all show how magnificent they are.
The first hour is passable as these things go, but the script from Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk employs far too many tired conventions to keep a seasoned viewer engaged, while the cast is given far too little in the way of motivation or history to allow them to create characters we care about. (The one piece of inspiration comes in giving Robicheaux, nicknamed “The Angel of Death,” a debilitating case of PTSD). Fuqua does little in the way to inspire them as these capable professionals are left to look tough, handle their weapon of choice adroitly and ride their horses without falling off.
The movie’s climax is particularly troublesome as this pitched battle between 200 bad guys, the townsfolk and the mercenaries is a muddle of action that descends into the ridiculous. This half-hour of carnage is the very definition of overkill as actions are repeated ad nauseum, all of it cut together in a blur that defies the viewer to make sense of where any characters are in relation to the others. Throw in a Gatling gun that’s able to spray bullets across a distance with a range that defies physics and you have a sequence that not only confuses the viewer but insults their intelligence as well. Like so many directors, Fuqua adheres to the “more is more” philosophy, mistaking bludgeoning an audience with entertaining it.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.