Monday, September 26, 2016
The Magnificent Seven (2016): the Good, the Bad, and the WHAT?!
Well, friends. I am here, with what promises to be an extensive read (on Tuesday, there will a be quiz on chapters three and four).
First up, I will offer a spoiler-free review for those who have not been to a screening yet. After that, there will be a more in-depth analysis, comparison, breakdown of feelings, deep thoughts, free-verse poetry, etc, etc.
First of all, I have been waiting for this movie with deep excitement. It has been a sad summer of movies, and this one was going to swoop in and entertain me to death. The original Magnificent Seven is practically perfect in every way and a personal top ten movie. I was not clamoring for a remake. When it was first announced with Tom Cruise playing the lead--I BOOED OUT LOUD. But, then Tom was out and Denzel was in, and I sat quietly and pondered my feelings. I was mostly cool with it. Then the cast announcements continued to roll in and I was completely on board (the loss of Wagner Moura somewhere in the process only slightly tampered my joy).
The trailer was released and I was filled with even more joy. A REAL BIG-BUDGET CLASSIC WESTERN WITH NO GENRE TWISTS IN SIGHT! (Cowboys vs. Aliens, I am still sad about you.) I was suspicious of their none-use of Elmer Bernstein's famous theme to promote the film, because that is 100% how you get me hyped on anything. (Side-note: My housemate has promised, in the event of my death, to carry an urn of my ashes into a memorial service to the Mag 7 theme, because then everyone will retroactively remember me being just a little more cool than I really am.)
But, then it premiered at TIFF and the reviews started rolling in, and even the few that I really trust, were just middling on the film. No one really HATED it, but no one was very excited either. And, I reacted reasonably to this news--
--by covering my hands over my ears and duh-duhduhduhing the theme song to myself and refusing to listen and repeating over and over, "I HAVE FAITH IN DENZEL. I HAVE FAITH IN DENZEL."
And, here we are today.
To be honest, I would have watched the Thursday night screening, but I roped myself into seeing it with other people. And because me living in a new place means people who want to hang out with me are scarce--I DON'T TURN AWAY SOCIAL ENGAGEMENTS WITH PEOPLE.
So, Sunday afternoon it was to be, and not a moment too soon, as I received this earlier today:
I take my responsibilities to my readers very seriously. I will not let you down (unless you're waiting for me to pick up on some series I started two years ago and/or write that post I keep promising, in which case, I will let you down).
My experience watching Magnificent Seven was a complex range of feelings, and I kept trying to watch it through the lense of its own individual movie--but I kept getting drawn back to comparisons to the previous film.
Because make no mistake, this film is both original and derivative. It is as if someone took apart the 1960 film, separated all the disparate elements, and then chose a few right here and a few right there and grafted them into a brand new framework.
The overarching theme and motivation of all characters has been changed, and it is certainly less cohesive here. That is not necessarily negative, and does certainly work well at many points, but ends up leaving the titular seven as a group of happenstance and convenience instead of purposeful.
However, what this film lacks in overall group cohesion, it makes up for in its individual characters. In this film, there is no character as willfully obnoxious and overacted as Horst Buchholz' Chico. Nor will there be any trouble trying to remember who that seventh guy is: aka there are no Brad Dexters in this cast ("I'll save you Chris!" *gets shot and dies without helping at all*).
That is not to say all the characters are fully developed (I will elaborate on that more in the spoilers area), or that motivations are always clear.
To be concise, I will say that the cast is excellent, even when the story fails them. Denzel glides effortlessly through life as usual, and is perfect. Lee Byung-hun and Ethan Hawke are also standouts.
No matter any failings of this film, Lee Byung-hun's Billy Rocks makes is clear that the knife-throwing guy is always the stealth hero by virtue of being the coolest (following in the footsteps of James Coburn's Britt and Miyaguchi Seiji's Kyūzō).
Now, I really need to go into extensive detail of this whole film and discuss, in particular, this character's glorious hair, so maybe come back after you've watched it.
So, should I go see it?
A) If you are feeling the need for a delightful 1960s style western and also have never seen the 1960 film and don't mind some story issues here and there--go for it!
B) If you know every line and beat of the 1960 film, and are feeling the need for a delightful 1960s western--proceed with caution, but probably still proceed.
I DON'T KNOW. I'M STILL FEELING MY FEELINGS. I don't want to stop you from feeling those feelings too if you want to feel those feelings!
WARNING: FULL OF SPOILERS, YELLING, CHEERING, BANGING FISTS AGAINST TABLES
First of all, I am handing out bonus points to this movie for the moment when Chris Pratt says, "Well, it looks like we've got a Mexican standoff." BECAUSE THAT IS MY FAVORITE DUMB WESTERN TROPE OF ALL TIME. However, I am also exacting negative points for the fact that it WASN'T EVEN AN ACTUAL MEXICAN STANDOFF. ugh. sheesh.
Now, the movie started off on a rather dour note. The entire church scene was depressing, and not in movie fun depressing way where it has to happen for cool stuff to happen in response. No, it was like, oh, these child characters are for sure traumatized, and hey Matt Bomer cameo you are for sure marked for death, and okay Peter Sarsgaard you have made an acting choice and I respect that but def not sure why you are playing your guy as a deranged psychotic CAPITALIST. (This movie isn't big on showing when they can YELL it at you in a unique accent instead.) Like Peter Sarsgaard's bad guy Bartholomew Bogue KNOWS he is a deranged bad guy, and has no choice but to derange it up.
And then the credits. And Walter Mirisch's name popped up as Executive Producer and that made me unreasonably happy.
And then we meet Denzel's Sam Chisolm, and Chris Pratt's Josh Faraday. They are roughly equivalent to Yul Brynner's Chris and Steve McQueen's Vin (full character comparison below). Their introduction is not even close to the all-time-classic hearse ride that Brynner and McQueen take, and instead involves a bar-room shootout. Whatevs. Already, the tone is changed from the 1960 film--and it continues to diverge.
In the original Magnificent Seven, the characters are gunfighters--men who live through their guns--who have become both obsolete to society and empty personally from years of killing. It actually takes quite some time into the film to see them shoot anyone dead.
Here, they start racking up the body-count quite early without a sense of the internal cost (there are some lines of dialogue here and there that do allude to it, and Ethan Hawke's character as a whole). This can be taken as negative in comparison with the original, but also the film was tackling entirely different themes.
Instead of a one unifying theme, it seems each character has their own orbital themes: revenge, prejudice, personal loss, looking for purpose, dealing with trauma, CAPITALISM IS YOUR GOD! (okay, Peter, calm down).
As interesting as these glimpses are, they are never fully worked out enough to provide understanding or motivation. This film gives both too much background and not enough.
I still have no clear understanding of what the bad guy was attempting to accomplish or why.
And I also didn't understand why these guys all joined together to form a group. Instead of 1960 Mag 7's search for normalcy or redemption, they just join together when Denzel tells them to join. Except for Red Harvest (heh! I see what you did there, screenwriter), the young Comanche played by Martin Sensmeier who literally just magically (ugh) pops up out of nowhere in the desert and tells Denzel (who speaks Comanche) that his elders told him that he would take a different path, and they share a deer's heart, and Red Harvest is part of the gang. That is the extent of what we learn from him and we also really don't hear from him ever again. Except when he kills the bad guy Comanche and tells him that he is a disgrace. okay.
I dearly appreciate the film's varied casting choices and inclusion of people of color (especially in comparison with the 1960 film which had two white men playing Mexicans, and another white man playing a Mexican-Irish man), but, unfortunately, in the case of Red Harvest, he comes off as more of a magical Native trope than a real person (Sensmeier does great work with what he has, however). And the juxtaposition of his character against the Comanche man who worked for Sarsgaard was jarring. It was a good Native versus bad Native with both given no character work aside from their visible "Nativeness."
Although, speaking of the bad Comanche, one subtle moment that interested me greatly was his part in killing Vincent D'Onofrio's Jack Horne. Horne is introduced as an infamous "Indian fighter" who used to make his living collecting US government bounty money for Native American scalps. That his death comes at the bow of a Native American is actually a more subtle and nuanced action than it suggests.
Jack Horne was an interesting character and also inspired Chris Pratt's line that made me laugh more than it should: "That bear is wearing human clothes." But, also D'Onofrio was doing the acting equivalent of wearing too many accessories, and he needed to look into the mirror and take one off. Maybe the disconcerting high-pitched voice. Like, definitely the disconcerting high-pitched voice.
So, anyway, back to the story. Chris Pratt's Josh is off killing people with magic tricks and Denzel's Sam is being hired by Haley Bennett's Emma. Bennett is the the filmmaker's attempt to insert a female presence into the story (almost completely lacking from the original aside from Horst the Worst's love interest). She was still side-lined anyway, but not more so than half the guys in the 7, so I don't know.
I do know that her outfits were 100% ridiculous and she was not well-protected from the sun at all.
The third to join the seven is Manuel García-Rulfo's Vasquez for reasons that don't completely make sense. He is wanted and Denzel promises not to go looking for him if he helps out, but Vasquez could have just shot him right there and been free to go, so WHO KNOWS.
I did really enjoy García-Rulfo's performance and he played off of Chris Pratt well. Although, I was extremely surprised that he was still alive at the end.
And then we meet Lee Byung-hun's Billy Rocks and Ethan Hawke's Goodnight Robicheaux in a scene similar to 1960's introduction of Britt. We also get to see Byung-hun's glorious hair THAT HE KEEPS A STINKIN KNIFE IN I CAN'T HANDLE IT I LOVE IT TOO MUCH but I also cannot find a photo of said hair in action. I am sorry. Here is a photo of him stabbing bags of hay instead.
Goodnight Robicheaux. His performances is memorable and all, and that scene between Denzel and him about the Civil War was a character moment that I wish more of the 7 received.
Also, am I just wildly speculating, or is Billy supplying Goodnight with drugs?
Also, I LOVED Byung-hun's and Hawke's chemistry. Theirs was the most fascinating pairing, and their deaths cut me more than the others, but also they went out laughing about Goodnight's daddy "saying a lot of things" and that was perf. *don't cry, Millie, don't cry*
And, then, there was that unexpected death. Christ Pratt's Josh was gonna be a survivor, I was sure. He wasn't a tragic figure, and he was also the Steve McQueen character, so I thought he'd live (along with Denzel's Sam and Red Harvest as my other guesses). His death was very surprising and a genuine twist for me.
I have to say, Chris Pratt's performance did not always work for me. EEEEKKKK. I KNOW. I'M SORRY. I adore Chris Pratt (Andy Dwyer FOREVER), and he is versatile actor, but it didn't all work for me here. He was goofy, which did not fit the tone of most of the film, but then he also killed with ease and also called out Goodnight for being unable to shoot--and it just didn't ALL work for me. I think it's mostly flaws in the character and not Pratt though. And, he did get a pretty bombastic death.
AND THEN THERE'S DENZEL.
Denzel is perfect and can do no wrong and I love him. He was wonderful here, and he should be in more westerns. And the backstory was maybe a bit too much thrown into the stew pot, but he also sold the heck out of it and I don't care. And also, he did this cool move on his horse, and Denzel + that horse for life!
My final thoughts on this film (and dear lord I really have like three million more thoughts, but I am also very tired and my writing is slipping into non-descriptive monosyllable land):
That Gatling gun was not fairplay western shootout.
Almost no movies should be longer than two hours, but also, I was entertained the entire running time.
Cinematography was gorgeous.
Score was lovely, but missing something.
The end credits were perfect AND USED BERNSTEIN'S THEME AND I GOT SUPER HYPED, BUT IT WAS TOO LATE BECAUSE THE MOVIE WAS OVER.
CAPITALISM IS YOUR GOD!
Not a single Horst Buchholz in sight. *breaks down weeping for joy*
There is this moment where Red Harvest refuses to eat the meal put before him and refers to it suspiciously as "White man's food." I chuckled, because when I was living in Sierra Leone, I always had a few fruit leathers in my backpack. Aka it was the only snack I ate or shared with other people. But, most of the women I worked with didn't care for the fruit leather as I later learned, and SOMEONE started a rumour that it was the "white man's food that killed the Loko people" [an ethnic group in Northern Sierra Leone]. THANKS, MASERAY, I KNOW IT WAS YOU. *laughing crying face*
Also, after the movie, my friend was like, "I feel like seeing the original. Do you think it is on Netflix?"
Me internally: *keep calm, girl. Keep calm. Don't show extreme emotion. It's okay. You can do this. Be CASUAL. BE CASUAL.*
Me: "I mean, I actually own it on DVD, you know, but yeah."
Me: "I MEAN IT'S A TOP TEN FILM OF COURSE I LOVE IT SO MUCH OH MY GOSH DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE IT!?!!?!?!?!"
Friend: "Uh, yeah. Of course."
And, so we did.
Chris (Yul Brynner) --> Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington)
Similarities: Leader, and first in group; all black clothing; survives the film; both use the line: "I've been offered a lot for my work, but never everything."
Differences: Chris was a gunfighter, but not much else was known, whereas, Sam is a bounty hunter/official peacekeeper something or other; Sam has extensive backstory about the deaths of his family and his experiences as a Union soldier; Chris is described as Cajun.
Who played it better? Denzel is perfect, but this is also my favorite Brynner role. TIE.
Vin (Steve McQueen) --> Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt)
Similarities: Leader's right hand guy during the round-up of the group; makes quips; Vin is shown gambling and losing all his money and Josh is known as a gambler; Both always on the look-out for female companionship; both use the line about the man falling down a building: "So far, so good."
Differences: Vin is third to join the group and Josh is second; Vin survives; Vin is a little goofy, but mostly quiet, whereas, Josh talks nonstop and makes tons of jokes and has just too much personality; Vin is always by Chris' side, but Josh hangs out more with Vasquez after the initial start of the group
Who played it better? No contest, sorry Chris! Steve McQueen is impossibly perfect as Vin, and it is understandable that they took the character in a different direction with Chris; although, I also feel that naming him Josh was a tribute to Josh Randall--one of Steve's great Western characters.
Britt (James Coburn) --> Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun)
Similarities: Brilliant at knives and guns; talks very little; dies; mostly same introduction
Differences: Britt is white, but Billy is Korean and hangs around Goodnight so that he can help him navigate "the white man's prejudice"
Who played it better? They are both the coolest kids around and I love them. I think Billy is my favorite character in this remake, but I also adore adore adore Britt in the original. TIE
Lee (Robert Vaughn) --> Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke)
Similarities: Both have a hidden fear of shooting/guns/battle/likely PTSD; both die; both conquer their fear to help the others; both are "smooth"
Differences: Goodnight is a Confederate sharpshooter, but nothing is known about Lee's background aside from his occupation; Goodnight leaves the group in the middle, but returns to help them during the climatic battle (like Brad Dexter's Harry from the 1960 film); Goodnight is referred to as Cajun (like Yul Brynner's Chris); Goodnight has a lone horse-rider in his sights to kill (like James Coburn's Britt); Goodnight even speculates a bit about possible gold rewards (like Harry); Lee's fear and hiding during battle is known only to himself (and partially by three of the villagers), but Goodnight is caught by both Josh and Billy
Who played it better? Very different depictions of a character with the similar trait of crippling fear. I like both portrayals, but maybe Hawke's a bit more.
The other three have very tenuous connections to the 1960 film characters.
Chico (Horst Buchholz) --> Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier)
Similarities: last to join the group after tracking the other six; youngest member; "looking for a path" different than their family; survives
Differences: Red Harvest doesn't make me want to SCREAM IN RAGE THE ENTIRE TIME HE'S ON SCREEN; Chico stays in the village, but Red Harvest rides off with the other survivors; also everything else is different
Who played it better? Martin Sensmeier ALL THE WAY. I mean, it was a very different character; and truly, Chico is a far more developed character with an actual arc than Red Harvest. BUT, STILL.
Harry (Brad Dexter) --> Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo)
Similarities: On the run from the law; the jokester of the group; the most clearly mercenary member; is introduced by getting the drop on the leader; Vasquez and Josh banter a lot (Harry and Vin exchange a few jokes)
Differences: Vasquez's Mexican identity is a distinct piece of his character; Vasquez is the third member of the group (Harry is second); Vasquez survives; Vasquez is actually useful
Who played it better? Manuel Garcia-Rulfo takes this one easily, because despite having an ill-defined character without many beats, he still was memorable and distinct. Brad Dexter is forever the one guy no one remembers in the Seven.
Bernardo (Charles Bronson) --> Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio)
Similarities: This is for sure the most tenuous connection. They barely connect at all. They are both renown conflict fighters (Jack in "Indian wars" and Bernardo as a mercenary); they both die saving someone from the town/village whom they have grown attached to
Differences: Bernardo's Mexican-Irish heritage is a huge point of his identity, and his arc (his dying words: "What's my name?" Kids: "Bernardo!" "You're damn right!" Me: *CRIES*); Jack Horne is an avid killer of Native Americans and is killed in the end by a Comanche man; their introductions are very different
Who played it better? Bernardo O'Reilly is just a wonderful, wonderful character and I love him very much. Obviously, these are only superficially comparable, but as disparate characters, I still think Bronson has it over D'Onofrio.
Well, gang! It's now over 3,000 words of my stream-of-consciousness processing my thoughts and feelings, and this isn't even everything I think and also I have not edited at all, and that is way too many words for me to read before I click publish, and I will regret all of this tomorrow. BUT, QUE SERA SERA!