The Mediocre Seven

The Magnificent Seven – One dusty brawl

What happens when you take seven movie stars, put them on horses and give them an unlimited number of guns?

Surprisingly, not much.

The scenery is the only thing magnificent in this remake of the original 1960 film of the same name.

Sweeping scenic vistas of Coconino National Forest, Arizona where the film was shot, and gorgeous cinematography by Mauro Fiore (Avatar) are the real stars of this show.

Given that the ‘60s film was a  Westernized version of the original Japanese 1954 film Seven Samurai — written and directed by the great Akira Kurosawa — one has to wonder whether a repeat in 2016 could have anything new or original to add to the story.

The short answer is no.

This is the plot outline of the original story: “A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.”

Not much has changed in this version save for the fact that the “bandits” have been transformed into a sociopathic mining tycoon, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), and the only villager with “enough balls” to go and recruit help is the young widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett).

Haley Bennett (The Equalizer) is convincing as the grieving widow who has nothing to lose. Bennett plays her character with grit and determination.

It is refreshing to note that while she is pretty and is dressed in a dangerously low-cut top, there are no sexual overtones or references from the seven.

It should also be noted, however, that sexism is still alive and well in this modernized and racially diverse movie.

Although Emma rides and shoots with the guys she’s hired, she is still the one serving them at the table when they gather to eat.

She is reprimanded by the men of her town for bringing them in to fight and after saving Chisolm’s life with an accurate and expert shot, he walks over, takes her gun from her and hands it to a man. Sigh.

While there have also been some culturally diverse additions to the original all-white cast of derelict dudes (Black, Hispanic, Native and Korean), the fact that there is little to no reference made of the racial diversity, a lost opportunity for levity and social commentary is the result.

Denzel Washington plays Chisolm, a roving warrant officer who recruits the team of miscreants.

We only learn toward the end of the film that he has his reasons for wanting revenge on Bogue, which is foreshadowed by another character’s comment to him.

“Just makin’ sure we’re fighting the battle in front of us, not the battle behind.”

Washington is a fine actor who elevates this often-tired movie, but one can’t help but wonder what has happened to this Academy Award winning actor who seems to be stuck in a string of mediocre and forgettable projects.

Chris Pratt is eminently likeable as the smart-mouthed card shark Josh Faraday. He absolutely sparkles with mischief and it is apparent he is thoroughly enjoying himself.

Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux looks wizened and rough. The actor is 46 years old and looks like he’s the same age as Washington who is 16 years his senior.

His character is a former Civil War sharpshooter who has now lost his nerve and is making his living gambling on the knife-fighting skills of his travelling partner, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). 

Robicheaux is one of the only characters given a back-story, but even then, Hawke is so inscrutable, we never feel a connection to him or his struggles.

Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Men In Black) plays Jack Horne with enthusiasm and gusto. Horne is a mountain of a man with an incongruously high-pitched voice.

D’Onofrio’s performance is no-holds-barred energy and provides some of the best laughs in this otherwise excessively serious film.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Cake) plays Vasquez, a Mexican outlaw. There is little information about him and Billy Rocks aside from the fact that they make this 2016 version of the film more politically correct if historically inaccurate.

Rounding out the seven is Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier, TV actor), an American Indian who has been ostracized by his tribe and is now on his own.

We never find out what he did to be rejected by people, but it is unsettling when he kills the one Indian fighting on behalf of the villain and tells him he’s a disgrace.

Director/Writer Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, Olympus Has Fallen) has written a few good lines, but has created a mostly forgettable film that adds little to an old story.

There is a lot of shooting and a lot of cold-blooded murder, but it is done in such a casual and off-handed way, we feel emotionally removed from it.

The final showdown in the town seems interminable and I found myself looking at my watch.

At 133 minutes, there are a lot of missed opportunities to bring something new and fresh. It’s pretty much exactly what anyone who has enjoyed TV westerns might expect. Nothing more.

Magnificent? Perhaps mediocre.

I give this film 3 out of 5 stars.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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