THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
(2016, Antoine Fuqua)
[3 out of 5 stars]
[Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment]
Hollywood has a numbers problem. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is typical of the Hollywood response to the diversity issue: a remake of a remake about a group of outsiders coming together to fight evil: "we have black, white, Asian, Mexican, Native American, a white woman...", says director Antoine Fuqua as if he was listing the menu off an international food buffet. Boxes are ticked and a quota is achieved, that should be enough, right? But progressive and diverse storytelling isn't just about the numbers. It is, most crucially, about depth and specificities.
It's good that they are finally giving characters, who were once relegated to the sidelines, the spotlight. However, inclusion shouldn't sacrifice depth for the sake of breadth. To be fair, it would have been difficult to find depth in a movie like this. There are seven of them after all and every single one is a potentially interesting character to explore but impossible to achieve well in such a limited running time. Which is why diverse storytelling works so much better in television. In that format, you have the time to go deeper. But then I look at movies like Erguven's MUSTANG or Celine Sciamma's GIRLHOOD, or Cretton's SHORT TERM 12, who manage to provide insight into the lives of a diverse group of people. These movies capture the specific lives of these very specific characters. Characters who don't look like me or act like me but whom I can relate to because they're portrayed as real, flesh-and-blood people.
What THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN lacks in insight, it makes up for in entertainment value - which is what most movie-goers would expect, and unfortunately, why Hollywood is so afraid to break the system and formula. Fuqua's film is thoroughly enjoyable and it's a nice diversion. It's got a great cast, from the charismatic Denzel Washington to the always appealing Chris Pratt. The shootouts are fun to watch mainly because of the wide range of skills each magnificent member is capable of doing from knife-wielding to sharpshooting to the good, old-fashioned bow and arrow. These scenes are also shot really well. The action is not muddled and confusing with an occasional gorgeous shot including a wide-angle of Washington on a horseback shot at night.
But that's all Hollywood is good at. Assembling together an appealing cast, beautiful visuals and exciting action scenes should be the minimum. In a way, it shouldn't be surprising. Hollywood has usually been about mass appeal and risk-averse storytelling. They are trying and they've made an entertaining movie out of it which is their primary goal as a business. But I can't help but feel that they can do better. Sure, there are more diverse faces on our screens, and that's a beautiful step forward, but now we need to take another step forward and start to examine the brains and souls of these characters - to tell untold stories and to witness unseen perspectives. Not just faces on screen.