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New films: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

At 132 minutes in running time, the new remake of “The Magnificent Seven” is 4 minutes longer than the 1960 version. But both are exercises in brevity compared to the 207 minutes of 1954’s “Seven Samurai,” the Akira Kurosawa classic that both films are based on. That may seem like an odd starting point for discussion but it was the length of this film that struck me more than any other characteristic while watching it.

In all three films, the citizens of poor villages seek out professional fighters to help rid them of villainous overlords. In the most recent iteration, the villain is played with money over all other consideration simplicity by Peter Sarsgaard with a distinct local twist. His character lives in gold mining era Sacramento while the action takes place a few days ride away towards the hills. In an early speech, justifying his actions, Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue equates unbridled capitalism with God and religion, and for that brief moment it seemed like the film might take on a more political tone.

The basic set up establishes the cruel fate of the villagers before they seek assistance, followed by an extensive period during which they find their heroic leader, this time played by Denzel Washington. That’s followed by even more time as he assembles his unlikely crew of gunmen and outlaws willing to take on seemingly insurmountable odds in the pursuit of reward, glory, retribution, or just an end to an aimless existence.

There’s more continuity than in the recent “Suicide Squad” at least, in which we were introduced to the characters that weren’t due to be killed off in the opening scene, through a review of their dossiers. Here at least the prospective fighters are tracked down and introduced but it’s hard to avoid trying to keep a running count of the numbers, knowing that the film might take a narrative turn as soon as there are seven of them assembled.

Which gets us back to the length. While the film is well made and well acted, for the most part, we always know that the characters and the film are spoiling for the big fight. But it’s an action film that lasts through an average films worth of relative inaction before we get to that point. I enjoyed it but then I enjoy Kurosawa’s pacing also. However, this isn’t an era of audiences that tend to welcome 90 minutes of slow burn buildup to what they came to see, however well it plays out in the end.

Washington is well supported by Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio, among the others, but Chris Pratt borders on the distracting as the comic relief of the Seven. It feels like we could have had a little less of that, a little less of a few other things, and successfully reached the showdown a little sooner.

At risk of spoilers, and again in comparison to “Suicide Squad,” it is at least refreshing not to have the minority characters all die first, possibly helped by having an African American director reteam with his African American leading man (”The Equalizer,” “Training Day”). The overall outcome is solid and I appreciated it, but it seems like it might be a tougher sell to younger audiences.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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