Movie Mahal

An online film journal for Indian Cinema

THE MAGNIFICENT 7 (Dir. Antoine Fuqua, 2016, US)

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What if you got the opportunity to rework a contestable classic but had nothing to say? This is pretty much what The Magnificent 7 feels like. One can probably imagine the creative heads that cooked up this idea stemmed from the certified stone cold image of Denzel Washington as a mysterious gunslinger on a horse cloaked in black; an irresistible cinematic construct indeed. But that’s where this idea should have ended.

Fuqua’s re-imagining is a lamentably inert, mechanical Western that refuses to take a breath. Washington’s intro is ace, conjuring a laconic rhythm that Fuqua should have tried to mirror in the rest of the film. Asking that a director slow it down seems like a prosaic request to make these days but even if this was the case then that typically means having something good enough to explicate to fill those silences. Consequently, characters cultivate insubstantial psychological depth, relying on the debatable vestiges of parody. Fuqua may not be the most rousing of filmmakers yet Training Day spasmodically articulated a promise to grow. However, it did not take long for us to discover Fuqua is just as parochial in his approach to big budget high concept cinema as his contemporaries. Perhaps then it would be erroneous to set him apart, deploring his authorial limitations as singular in a cultural practice of artistic habituation.

A paralysing inertness arises from a half-baked script that lingers thoughtlessly on how best to regurgitate a litany of genre clichés. While the elemental simplicity of Kurosawa’s original idea marked The Seven Samurai as a classic, what Sturges got spot-on with his hip Hollywood updating, regardless of the detractors, was the accent on epic moments, something which is altogether absent from Fuqua’s lacklustre updating. The Magnificent 7 may foolishly signal diversity and progress in Obama’s post racial make-believe, but the tired, one-dimensional stereotyping reeks of a regressive cinematic imagination, infecting the lumbering narrative trajectory. Not only does the film refuse to develop the promising austerity tinged ideological machinations alluded to in the opening but points to a political acquiescence rendering both the racial and economic politics of the film a banal afterthought.

An extended opening and an even longer protracted ending means a middle section goes missing. Typical emotional investment by the audience never transpires. Instead relationships, characters and emotions are given to us in digestible bite size anachronisms, amounting to a type of corrosive creative contempt. Such contempt is mirrored in an altogether familiar aesthetic, stylistic monotony. Infuriating hyper edits, a terribly uninspired score by James Horner, stock action sequences and misplaced quips delivered with unusually poor comic timing by Chris Pratt may appear like minor quibbles but the culminating effect is a totalizing self-aggrandizement evident in contemporary popular culture. However, critical observations of this kind are not uncommon for high-end Hollywood cinema. If so, then how can the Western like Science Fiction, one of the few genres that accommodates for a transposition of anxieties, where genre subversion has flourished, come across as incredulous and oblivious to such faculties?

Since this reworking of The Magnificent 7 retains the title and the thrust of the narrative, then why abandon the original theme music for a completely redundant and forgettable score by Horner? I am not sure if this was down to an issue to do with rights or the distracting penance for nostalgic affectations but in my opinion Fuqua should have blasted Bernstein’s mythical music all over the place. At least give us some nostalgic satisfaction. Not only does the absence of the original theme music explain the lack of the requisite gratuitous money shot in which we dispiritingly never see our magnificent seven riding together but points to the absence of spectacle which a film of this scale should have been aspiring to, at least in spirit.

The film opens with a flawed panning shot, moving from left to right, an attempt to draw on the mountainous milieu of the American West and Frontier imagery. But what should have been a shot that lasted for much longer takes place hastily, striking a tone of artistic impatience. This instance points to the wider disjointed design of the film, problematizing the increasingly populist critical position often chosen when big budget Hollywood films fail to deliver, labelling them as passable, great fun, mildly diverting and so on. Even the mammoth shootout at the end is feebly conceived, the problems of filming a half-decent action sequence writ large once again. I should also briefly mention the villainous Bart Bogue; an apparition that lingers indistinctly, dwindling into a puddle of cowardly piss which may be wholly representative of the whoring capitalist tyrant archetype but fails to offer concrete oppositional ideological threat – it is all rendered as cinematic bluster.

If anything The Magnificent 7 is a star vehicle for Denzel Washington (with the long sideburns Washington is a ghostly reincarnation of Henry Fonda’s Frank from OUATITW) and the likely success of the film at the international box office is a continual reminder that he is probably one of the few American film stars who can still pull in a loyal crowd of filmgoers and justify being labelled bankable. Part of me hopes the film does well at the box office. We might get more Westerns. However, if they are all going to be as derisible as this then maybe we should stop right here.

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2 comments on “THE MAGNIFICENT 7 (Dir. Antoine Fuqua, 2016, US)

  1. Roy Stafford
    September 28, 2016

    I don’t disagree with anything in your analysis, though I think I would have used slightly different language. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘contestable classic’. Are you suggesting the Sturges picture isn’t ‘classic’? I don’t know that film well enough but Kurosawa’s film is certainly a classic. I’m currently trying to write quite a long piece comparing the 1954 Seven Samurai with the 2016 film. There are some direct correspondences, but an awful lot is missed out in a shorter film. Kurosawa’s film was about caste/class and honour in feudal Japan, presented as a humanist epic. Fuqua’s writers haven’t managed to find the same kind of depth in their adaptation. I read a quote from Fuqua in which he said he was aiming for a nostalgic movie, like the Westerns he watched as a child with his grandmother. It’s just occurred to me that in some ways the 2016 film is like the Cohen’s version of True Grit, attempting to go back to the original source, but not really knowing how to do it.

    I have to confess that for a film 133 mins long I quite enjoyed Fuqua’s film and was fully engaged, but then I spent the whole time remembering Kurosawa’s version and thinking about the comparison. Fuqua didn’t manage to find a Mifune Toshiro and that leaves a big hole.

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  2. Omar Ahmed
    September 28, 2016

    Contestable refers to the Sturges film not Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Although critical opinion points to the classic status of Sturges film I would argue the film’s reputation is somewhat inflated particularly by the infectious score. I also feel Fuqua’s film could have done a lot more with the racial subtext which had some potential to be developed further. I agree about True Grit and probably would include 3:10 to Yuma into the mix as another fine Hollywood Western updating. Maybe Fuqua should have remade Sholay instead? Another film that borrows much from Kurosawa’s film.

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This entry was posted on September 28, 2016 by in Genre, Hollywood Cinema, Race, Star, The Western, Uncategorized.

OMAR AHMED

PhD Researcher (Indian Parallel Cinema), The University of Manchester (AHRC 2015).

Teacher of Film & Media.
Freelance Writer & Cinephile.

Contact:
oahmed5@gmail.com

STUDYING INDIAN CINEMA (Auteur, 2015)

DIRECTORY OF WORLD CINEMA: INDIA (2015)

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