The Perfectly Acceptable Seven

dylyn-petersonBY DYLYN PETERSON
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

Perhaps the greatest of all the plot tropes (from the website TV Tropes) is The Magnificent Seven Samurai, having turned out some of the best episodes of shows like Samurai Jack and Firefly, and, of course, owing its name to two cinematic classics: Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (which I’ve seen [it’s great]), and The Magnificent Seven (1960) (which I haven’t seen). It’s a simple, but classic plot: a small village, unable to defend itself against an appropriately large group of invaders, pools its resources to hire a dream team of old-fashioned badasses (although sometimes this might just be one really great dude, as in Samurai Jack). These guys train them to fight in a short period of time, about half of the team dies, and the village is ultimately saved. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is.

It’s impressive, then, that in the face of such steep opposition The Magnificent Seven (2016) still manages to be a memorable and enjoyable movie. As far as I understand, it’s, for the most part, an In Name Only remake of the 1960 film, although it has the same basic plot I described above. Its quality is in no small part due to its impressive cast, with the likes of Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, and Ethan Hawke (we’ll forgive him for Hamlet). It helps, too, that the script, cowritten by Nic Pizzolatto, the writer of True Detective (which I recommend), is filled with some of the most stunning one-liners of this generation. I wrote this a little too long after seeing the movie to do most of them justice, sadly.

The villain of the movie, Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue, is amazing. He’s worth the ticket price all on his own. Sarsgaard delivers every line as though he woke up twenty minutes ago and is furious that he can’t find his morning coffee. He doesn’t just chew the scenery, he churns it into a paste and drinks it as a smoothie. There is one part of the opening of the film, set in a church in the main town, where he has a kid stick his hand in a jar of dirt, while generally terrifying the heck out of all of the townsfolk. My girlfriend and I were pretty convinced it was going to have a scorpion or something buried in it, but no. It’s just…dust (to paraphrase Bogue).

Not all of our heroes are of the same stature, though: Byung-Hun Lee’s Billy Rocks and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez don’t get enough screentime (especially Vasquez, who is barely in the movie), and Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux doesn’t have much to do besides having excellent chemistry with Denzel Washington and have flashbacks to the Civil War. These are more-or-less rounded out by Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne, who is as beautiful and terrible as the dawn, Washington’s Sam Chisolm, who steals the screen every time he’s in frame, and Martin Sensmeier’s Red Harvest, who, quite frankly, deserves his own paragraph.

Red Harvest was the best part of the movie, and not just because Sensmeier is from Yakutat (although that helps). I saw the film on opening night in a reasonably packed house, and he was the only character whose credit was received with thundering applause. He earned every clap, considering he had the most impressive one-on-one fight (against the villain Denali, who, no spoilers, kills one of the titular seven, Boromir-style), several of the best lines (from the burned-into-my-retinas “You’re a disgrace,” to his introduction, which I’m told is spoken in Tlingit), and by far the best introduction of all the main characters. Sure, Chisolm takes out a whole bar of bad guys, Jack Horne survives falling off a cliff, and Billy Rocks kills a guy in a gun duel with a hair pin, but Red Harvest intimidates all of the other six through sheer body language. He even shares.

Unfortunately, he also brings the film’s shortcomings into view. He, like Billy and Vasquez, doesn’t get nearly enough time, which is only one of the big problems with Seven (2016). It’s very generic, and adheres to the formulas of the Western a little too closely, losing any strong degree of distinctiveness in the midst of scenes we’ve not only seen before, but seen better. Its PG-13 rating is also not in its favor; this movie desperately wants to be the hardest-R Western since Django Unchained, and avoids it only by testing suspension of disbelief (does nobody in this universe bleed?). It also makes a fatal error in deciding which of the seven lives and dies (although my wish list was 2/3, so I can’t complain much), but that’s more subjective.

Ultimately, though, none of these distract too much until about a week after you’ve seen the movie. It’s worth seeing, if only for Red Harvest, Bogue, and the excellent training montage halfway through. I’d give it a 5/7.

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