Monday, October 3, 2016

The Magnificent Seven - Review/Comparison

You magnificent bastards!
Instead of offering a regular review, which are widely available, this will be more of a review/comparison between this new film and the “original” The Magnificent Seven.

Growing up, I watched a lot of Westerns.  A lot of Westerns.  My dad loved them, and we watched them together.  It was a weekend staple.  I also watched a lot of musicals.  My mother loved them, and if you wanted to get some of her movie/song lyrics, you needed to be well versed (as it were).  I’ve even watched non-Western musicals—like Paint YourWagon—because they starred actors who were quintessential frontier types.  You simply haven’t lived until you’ve heard Clint Eastwood singing despondently while walking among the trees, or Lee Marvin doing a muddy dance rendition of “Hand Me Down That Can O’ Beans”. 

If I recall correctly, neither man touches a gun the entire movie, and the only violence is some standard, friendly, neighborhood bar brawls.

You're as magnificent as ever!
So it’s hardly surprising that this past Saturday I ended up in a theater this weekend with my father to witness the remake of The Magnificent Seven.  I’m fairly certain I’ve seen most of the iterations of this movie starting with the original template, The Seven Samurai and then through the entire catalog of Magnificent title (Return of the Seven, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, and The Magnificent Seven Ride) Battle Beyond the Stars right through the anime Samurai Seven including the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “The Magnificent Ferengi” and Black Adder’s “The Black Seal”.

Antoine Fuqua pays some layered and obvious homage to the original throughout this new telling of a rag-tag group of borderline criminals/heroes.  The plot skews very little from the original source material Akira Kurosawa 60+ years ago.  There’s a bad man Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue, harassing a small town of mostly defenseless but decent folk.  He’s a dirty, rotten, low-down, no-good, yellow-bellied sap-sucker who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if that means killing men, women and I assume cute puppies and kittens.  To stop him, it will take hard, dangerous, men with some true grit (see what I did there?).

Enter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who is introduced in one of the most cliché Western-genre ways possible—stopping just outside the bat-wing doors of a saloon, his shadow hidden from the patrons while they all look in rapt attention before he pushes inside to confront the bartender.  Damn, that’s cool!  Fuqua made of point of that in the film, “I kept reminding myself of when I was a 12yearold boy, when I was a kid watching it with my grandmother, what was the feeling I had? How much fun was it? How cool were they?”  Chisolm isn’t a real person—he’s an archetype, an angel of vengeance and justice in an unjust world.  Like Yul Brenner’s Chris Adams, he’s a champion of the cause because it’s the right thing to do (sorta).  For example: Chisolm wears his gun on his right hip with the butt forward and pulls a “cavalry draw”—with his right hand initially reversed.  I assume, like The Princess Bride’s Inigo Mantoya, he does this on purposes because to draw any other way would leave him unsatisfied and the fights would be over too soon.
"Why not just cross-draw, Denzel?"
"Reasons.  Bad-ass reasons."

But don’t look for this kind of draw to start becoming a staple of Westerns.  It’s overly clumsy and dangerous.  It can be practiced to perfection so that it’s “as fast” as other kinds of draws, but it still points the barrel of the gun (the end where the bullets come out) into the body of the shooter while his finger is trying to find the trigger—not a combination most safety instructors would advise.

Yep, Chisolm is that good/dangerous.

And he’s only the beginning.  Chisolm, spurred for “some reason” to draw out Bart Bogue,
Takes seven of you, huh?
begins to search out similarly competent gunslingers.  Chris Pratt’s Joshua Faraday takes on the role originally personified by Steve McQueen as Vin Tanner.  A jokester, prankster who is as quick with a witty retort as he is his own guns.  If you look closely, you’ll see that at one point Faraday uses a “mare’s leg” a shortened rifle made famous by McQueen on the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive and again by Zoe Washburn on Firefly.  Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux is a Doc Holliday type based in part on Robert Vaughn’s Lee, a poster-child for post-Civil War PTSD.  With him comes Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks in James Coburn’s role, who can use a knife (or series of knives) as well as anyone with a gun.

The remaining three characters are somewhat wholly new, or looser conglomerates of the original movie.  Vincent D'Onofrio as Jack Horne is something of a cross between Charles Bronson’s stoic, yet warm-hearted Bernardo O'Reilly and big man Brad Dexter’s Harry Luck.  Horst Buchholz as Chico, the hot-blooded villager who wants to become a gunslinger is only sorta found in Martin Sensmeier’s wonderful Comanche warrior, Red Harvest (we could have used a lot more of him and that's not just because I love archers!).  Finally, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez doesn’t really have much of a parallel, although he might be a mirror of Chris Pratt, and the two have a couple of clever exchanges before the shooting starts.
Fun fact: Red Harvest is the name of the Hammett story
which Akira Kurosawa used as the basis for Yojimbo.

And that’s really the heart of this movie.  Rather than the slower-paced 1960 film, which took a little more time to develop all the characters, including a number of the townspeople, this updated version is a quick build to the blow-em-up and shoot-em-out that dominates the second half of the film.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The trailers don’t hide what this story is about, and it delivers all that is promised and then some.  Bad Black Bart Bogue enlists an army of 200 gunmen (read as cannon fodder) for our heroes to mow down, rarely missing a shot or running out of ammunition until dramatic tension has to be built while James Horner’s riff on the classic Elmer Bernstein score soars and falls with our “heroes” efforts.

Make no mistake, this is an updated classic Western that does right by its history and its is modern audience.  I don’t know that the film needs to be seen on the big screen, but wow does it look pretty.  Certainly worth the price of admission of you have any love for Westerns, or any of the actors that showed up to pull leather.

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