This article originally appeared on Lit To Lens on Sept. 27, 2016.
There’s something about The Magnificent Seven that’s not quite right.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua on a script from Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto (!), the film stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Lee Byung-hun. It’s ferocious as hell. The body count is tremendous. Everything works. It’s just, something isn’t right.
It’s not Denzel, as Chisolm. He’s fine. It’s not Pratt, as Faraday. He’s a drunk with a mean streak. It’s not Hawke or Byung-hun, or Vincent D’Onofrio – one of the film’s best lines belongs to Pratt’s Faraday who describes D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne by saying “I do believe that bear is wearing human clothing.”
It’s … just not fun. The sincerity of the entire premise hits you like a Gatling gun to the spine. A greedy industrialist (Bartholomew Bogue – played by Peter Sarsgaard) terrorizes this small town in the Wild West, killing and taking what he pleases. A widow manages to solicit the help of Chisolm, a psudo-bounty hunter who more Batman than lawman, to take the town back.
For the first hour we follow Chisolm as he gets his band together. Outlaws, old friends – they’re not so much bad dudes as bad motherfuckers, all deadly with their weapons of choice. You know, there’s seven of them. You don’t get to play Carnegie Hall without a few practice shows first, so they storm the town, Rose Creek, and kill between 20 and 40 of Bogue’s men keeping the town under control while he spends a majority of the film’s opening act in Sacramento. Word, as it does, gets around. And Bogue plans to march on the town. Chisolm, his posse, and the rest of the town, have seven days to prepare for the attack.
So they train farmers and miners how to shoot, set traps, and dig trenches to give themselves as much of a chance as their limited numbers will allow. All the while a weird (and unfounded) rivalry between Pratt and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez develops – it never pays off – and Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux has (and then doesn’t) PTSD from his time notching 12 confirmed kills in the Battle of Antietam. Robicheaux knows there’s a history between Chisolm and Bogue (“I want to make sure we’re fighting the battle in front of us. Not the battle behind,” he says in his best mollassey N’awlins twang.) and it’s with the reveal of this information that Chisolm’s motivations crystallize for the audience.
Before we get to that reveal, though, people had to die. A lot of them. Most of them, to be honest. And the final battle is a huge sequence that let’s the bodies fly. And they do, line ‘em up, knock ‘em down style. It’s entertaining. The 133 minute run time flies as quick and as skull shattering as a shot from Robicheaux’s rifle, but little of it makes you feel like this is anything other than a job for which everyone gets paid (actors and hired guns).
The film wants to be fun – that’s why we get Pratt doing his best Mexican accent and Garcia-Rulfo bragging about the women he’s had – but the tone of The Magnificent Seven lands somewhere between a self-aware action blockbuster like Die Hard and gritty war movie like Saving Private Ryan. It’s not the right place to be. It’s not quite right.