More and more, the culture of film criticism seems to be driven primarily by cynicism, it’s become cool to hate, as if hatred is a marker of intellect. Gone is the appreciation for the middlebrow film, for a film that simply gets the job done. In a culture over run by “hot takes” everyone is more concerned about having the loudest opinion the quickest than allowing themselves time to reflect. Perhaps I’m doing the same by writing like this. Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven suffers from this toxic outlook, where if a film doesn’t change your life then it’s less. Not every film has to aspire to high art to work. When did having fun become such a dirty thing at the theater? I don’t want to make the film sound more accomplished than it is, but as I watched the screen I just found myself asking “Really? This is the film we’re all hating on?” Aren’t there more threatening films to our culture than this? Films more deserving of derision?
You can tell two different writers worked on this due to the clashing tones throughout the film. You have this gritty introspective aspect (Nic Pizzolatto) and a more free-wheeling giddy action film (Richard Wenk). The two tones are never really married all that well by Fuqua, but he does give the warring emotions their dues in the right moments. Fuqua hasn’t quite found the right vehicle in recent years for his haphazardly-gritty aesthetics, but he knows how to toss together a serviceable effort, and to his credit delivers his best work of action filmmaking in the third act of The Magnificent Seven. One thing he has always excelled at though, and continues to do here, is frame Denzel Washington as the icon he is. Fuqua relishes at the chance to paint Washington in classic framings that made Eastwood a star. Consider how he introduces Washington’s Sam Chisholm as a classic man from nowhere. He rides into town, the shots keeping his face out of frame as people in the town eye him wearily. He approaches the saloon entrance, the camera fixed on his hips, highlighting his pistols. He steps in, the camera rises up to reveal his face. Classic cinematic language recontextualized in a way we haven’t seen before – which is a pretty good way of describing what this film does well.
The more I think about the film the more I realize just how much, in it’s own way, the film is progressive and interesting. It’s primary reason for existing seems to be the same reason most westerns exist – there’s just something inherently exciting about horses and guns. Who doesn’t want to play in that cinematic realm? But all the same, it still managed to stand for something. Even though the story and framework was nothing new, it was small alterations that added up to make a huge difference. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a western starring a black actor? And even moreso, has there ever been a western – at least with this exposure – directed by a black director? Shouldn’t we be excited about this? Throughout the film, Fuqua makes slight changes in the structure and framework to open up new diversified and progressive possibilities. In every other film like this, it’s the non-white characters that die the earliest. In this one however, it’s the non-white characters that actually survive the film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, and that’s pretty awesome. In it’s own way, Fuqua’s remake is a reclamation of sorts of cinematic iconography that has been denied to non-white characters for so long. Let’s give him some credit. His Magnificent Seven isn’t high art, but it’s far more interesting than we’re acknowledging.