The Magnificent Seven

Genre: Western

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Screenplay: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier

Running Length:  132 minutes

Synopsis: With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-Hun), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.

Review: The Magnificent Seven is a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, but this is one of “those movies” in which it would actually do the viewer more good if they have never watched the original (which itself is actually also a remake of Akira Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai). While it doesn’t measure up to either original, this remake of The Magnificent Seven is a serviceable, entertaining film that should appeal to most audiences.

While the concept of a motley crew could have been new and fresh in the 60s, in the new millennium it is the norm – ensemble casts can be found across the board in multiple genres of film, most notably the superhero genre that is now the mainstay of blockbuster movies. Apart from the “been there, done that” vibe, the common weakness of many similar films is also found here in The Magnificent Seven – there simply isn’t enough flesh on the bone for many of the ensemble characters, so much so that the audience won’t really feel vested in their outcomes at all.

In a cast that is filled with well-known faces, Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are the only two that manage to make a mark. Denzel Washington is positioned as the emotional centre of the film, and the seasoned thespian assumes this role with aplomb. Chris Pratt is once again cast as a roguish charmer with all the best lines in the script, and his sharpshooting, sass-talking Josh Faraday is easily the most memorable (and likeable) character in the entire film. Unfortunately, Peter Sarsgaard comes across as a one-dimensional villain and his Bogue fails to convince (on a positive note, at least they didn’t cast Christoph Waltz yet again in this role).

The first hour of The Magnificent Seven is focused on the backstories of the seven-plus characters that populate the show, and is the more interesting half of the movie even if some of the backstories feel a little generic. In the second hour, Fuqua goes back to his action film roots, and it’s essentially one giant, protracted shootout where the vastly outnumbered good guys are able to mow down a ridiculous number of bad guys. While it does go on for a little too long, the action remains engaging enough to not feel tiresome. These seven may not necessarily be magnificent, but are at least a hair above “good enough”.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)


True Grit * * *

Genre: Western

Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen

Writers: Ethan & Joel Coen, based on the novel of the same name by Charles Portis

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Running Length: 110 minutes

Synopsis: Set in the Old West around the end of the 19th century, 14-year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is out to seek vengeance for her murdered father. The murderer is a man called Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who has fled into Indian territory after committing the crime. As the local law enforcement is no help, Mattie instead seeks out the help of a bounty hunter Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a tough drunkard who’s supposed to be at the top of his game. Although initially disinterested in the chase, Cogburn has a change of heart when Mattie offers a handsome reward. Also accompanying Mattie and Cogburn is LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who is hunting Chaney for the assassination of a Senator. A curious camaraderie forms between the trio, and the tough journey tests their mettle, especially for Mattie.

Review: True Grit sticks so true to the Western formula that it’s almost shocking that the usually quirky, offbeat Coen Brothers are behind the film. Although this is ostensibly a remake of the 1969 film starring the iconic John Wayne, this version by the Coens should more accurately be considered as a standalone interpretation of the Charles Portis novel. With a deft mix of comedy, character study and good old hardcore Western action, True Grit is one of the best Western films in recent years (in fact probably the best since Unforgiven), but remains a tough sell to audiences who are not fans of the genre.

There are a number of good performances to be found in True Grit. Jeff Bridges wisely chooses not to emulate John Wayne’s (Oscar winning) performance in the 1969 film, but actually puts across a better, more nuanced performance than what Wayne managed to achieve. There are still traces of Wayne’s Cogburn in Bridges’ portrayal, but these are kept to a minimum and it never feels like a facsimile. However, it is unlikely that Jeff Bridge’s Oscar nomination this year will lead to a win. Matt Damon is also understatedly effective as LaBoeuf, and apart from Mattie is probably the next most likeable character in the film.

However, the true standout is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who delivers the difficult dialogue with ease, and with a very believable, fiercely committed portrayal, Steinfeld’s Mattie easily becomes the emotional centre of the film. It’s far easier to be vested in this Mattie’s outcome than in the original film, as Kim Darby’s performance and role was eclipsed by John Wayne’s star power.   

Like many Westerns, the pacing of True Grit is slow and deliberate. Audiences who are able to settle into the groove of the movie will find themselves enjoying a film with a strong plot and amazing aesthetics (Roger Deakins’ cinematography is nothing short of flawless).  However, there’s a good reason why Westerns have fallen out of favour even amongst directors, and the bottom line is that most cinemagoers simply aren’t patient enough for slow burn movies like this one.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)