The Magnificent Seven – Film Review

The greatest moments of “The Magnificent Seven” aren’t the scenes where all the magnificent’s are sitting around, talking about their magnificent adventures. Movies should show, not tell, and I agree. But if you aren’t willing to show a characters journey, their past, their present state in the world, then you’ve got to try to tell us a little bit about them.

Cowboys talk in gravely, deep-voiced mumbles, I understand. But not all of them. Josh Faraday, the alcoholic magician played by Chris Pratt (or is it just Chris Pratt played by Chris Pratt?), has a lot to say. The quiet one, Chisolm, played by Denzel Washington, talks and acts as if he were living in an entirely different cinematic universe, a slow-burn, darkly-lit drama photographed by Roger Deakins.

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Luckily for Chisolm, he isn’t required to interact a whole lot with this ensemble, other than the obligatory assembling and introductions of the squad. We’ve got 7 here? One, two, three…I count six. Never mind, the seventh is standing over there, as Pratt’s character says in the beginning of the film, “Oh, good, we’ve got a Mexican!”

On-screen diversity is a hot topic in Hollywood and they’ve responded, if not in any dramatic way. They’re learning that people don’t just want diverse characters, they want actual characters. You know, a person with a motive other than revenge or a skill unrelated to their culture.

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The Chinese cowboy, Billy Rocks, played by Lee Byung-hun, is very skilled at throwing all sorts of sharp, metallic weapons, even his own hair-pin. It’s typical to cast a Chinese man as the prototypical knife-thrower (with a twist, albeit), but at least his stereotype isn’t dull. Billy actually rocks. He’s a quiet character but arguably the most entertaining of them all.

The second most engaging character arc would have to be Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, a PTSD-ridden sharpshooter who uses Billy as a circus entertainer for the locals, splitting the dividends between them. Their relationship seems very complex: Billy feels bad for Goodnight’s war-torn suffering, while Goodnight takes advantage of a foreign mans abilities for his own gain.

The film doesn’t come close to replecating the greatness of the original film, or even close to The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa’s original telling of the tale. But beyond the sketchy, loosely-plotted characters, there is a thirty-minute plus action sequence that’s very entertaining. If anything, you can be assured that director Antoine Fuqua hasn’t lost his interest or his touch in direction large scale, dynamite-driven action sequences.

Seven

What puts Seven above the normal detective tale is its method of discovery; It emits a picture-book quality by inspecting the crime after the murder’s committed and analyzes it in real language. A B-grade director would want to slide in flashback whiz-scenes of the murder, with shaky frames and loud beating music. But Fincher has the characters, detectives, and Doctor’s explain the outcome, and the visualization of each crime is more frightening than any flashback.

Two detectives must fight through the muck and poverty of their city and seek a murderer who, by way of the book-smarts of Detective Somerset, has a medieval modus operandi: Each murder relates to a sin in the seven deadly sins. They weave through after-effects of the murder, disgusting and impure, yet still Detective Somerset considers the man to be highly intelligent and methodical, while rookie Mill’s diagnoses him as just another wack-job, as if he has seen them all.

The cop-duo between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman plays along well, in fact in some ways I find the screenwriter wanted us to pick our man; as if the whole murder-case was a question of righteousness, before they even knew they were being tested. They both had niches, vices, idiosyncrasies, but if it came down to a choice, I’d say hotshot detective David Mills was the least-respectable; he needed immediate gratification in all he did; arguing for him is a one-rant and get out ordeal; punching in doors and shouting at journalists is his personal equilibrium. Impulsive, unprecedented, and obscure, it would have been in no way surprising to me if the final shot revealed in text that he either killed himself or was shot in a break-in.

Seven is an undoubtedly great, stylistic film with an ending bound to tighten the stomach muscles, and a director who’s future will shine in the industry, partly because of the shared sense of methodology with his film’s murderer.