The Magnificent Seven
There are some excellent “Making of” DVD extras here. I watched them all, and finally someone (the director, Antoine Fuqua) mentioned Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai), Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, without which this thing would never have been made. To give him credit, Fuqua listed it as the film that made him want to make movies in the first place. However, though Fuqua is an adequate director, he’s not worthy of pulling focus on Kurosawa’s camera. Nor, for that matter, was John Sturges, who made the original The Magnificent Seven in 1960. That film was a really good Western. Kurosawa’s is one of the best movies ever made.
If you watch all three films (which could be fun) you will be struck by many differences, but one stands out above all the others. The samurai waste no energy on macho posturing. (Except for Kikuchiyo, wonderfully played by Toshiro Mifune, who is not really a samurai but only a poseur, the son of peasants.) These are serious men who don’t need to prove anything to anyone, least of all to themselves. In both Seven films, the cowboys are always showing how big their balls are. They take stupid chances that leave themselves open to being killed by the unscrupulous outlaws. Not the samurai. The real star of the show, better than even Mifune, is my own favorite Japanese actor, the incredible Takashi Shimura as Kambei, the Yul Brynner part. The two men could not be farther apart. Yul has that hard glare. He frightens men into obedience. Takashi looks a little like your kindly old granddaddy, which is the kind of part he often played. His wisdom is what shows through. But when it comes to a fight, hold onto your crotch or you will find your balls lying in the street and you will not even have seen the sword slash that separated you from them.
Okay, enough about the better film. This one gets off to an okay start, with the assembling of the seven. That’s the best part of the film. They deliberately went for diversity here, and that’s a good thing. We have a Mexican, a Chinese man, a Comanche (in California? Never mind), a black man, a Cajun, a white mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio, and I swear I didn’t recognize him) and another white, Chris Pratt. Having maybe a Jew would have been fun. (BTW, the Indian is played by Martin Sensmeier, who is from Alaska, half Tlingit and half Koyukon-Athabascan!) In addition there is a spunky woman, played by Haley Bennett. The bad guy, Peter Sarsgaard, is almost comically bad. Just to establish his credentials, in the opening scenes he and his henchmen shoot four of the townspeople, including a woman, in cold blood and burn down a church! I’m surprised they didn’t bring in a litter of puppies for him to stomp on.
In continues okay as the incompetent townspeople are taught to shoot, and as defenses and booby-traps are prepared. Then comes the big attack, and it loses itself in the incredible scenes of slaughter that are demanded of an action film these days. It gets so, so stupid. I don’t know how many hired guns the bad man brought, but it was at least a hundred. Probably more. And it somehow looks like the Seven kill about two hundred of them. I wonder if anyone ever did a count? … and of course, someone has. There are 271 kills in the movie, which is all the hired guns and a lot of the townspeople and four of the seven.
Once again … doesn’t anyone ever ask themselves why henchmen just keep on coming? Is that asshole paying me enough for me to come charging down Main Street on my horse, taking no care for my personal safety at all? Is it just a personality defect of the henchman class? The Japanese have it, too, as in the bloody swordfight scene in Kill Bill, Part One, where Uma Thurman kills, by actual count, 65 Japanese swordfighters in suits. Who patiently wait their turn to have their limbs chopped off. Who never in a million years would think of cheating by bringing a gun or so to a swordfight, and shooting her from a safe distance. Yeah, I know, it’s meant to be more of a dance than a slaughter, but at some point it actually gets boring. And it does here, very soon. What a waste of a lot of good actors.
PS. Regarding the music. Elmer Bernstein’s music for the original The Magnificent Seven is one of the all-time great scores, especially the theme, which has been re-used countless times when someone wants to evoke the idea of a “western.” They use the theme here, but they had hired James Horner to write other music. Then Horner flew his airplane into the ground and died. But it turned out he had written down some stuff to be used, and they did. I can’t say I really noticed anything really great about any of it, but it will go down as Horner’s last score. He will be missed.