Monday, February 4, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: The Magnificent Seven

The concept of "The Magnificent Seven" is one that normally doesn't appeal to me (remakes, Classic Westerns). The original version of most films is usually the better option, but in this case I actually prefer the remake (don't kill me!). Also, I find the western genre as often lends itself to vapid plots surrounding basic ideas of revenge and honour. However, I was glad to have been proven wrong on this occasion.
This reinterpretation of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" is a rare remake that actually justifies its existence. It gives a fresh take on the story and has a strong sense of place. Set in a bordertown Mexican Village, the film tells the story of helpless farmers who hire seven gunfighters to defend them from cruel bandits. Every year without fail, their freshly harvested crops are raided, leaving them desperate and starving. As expected, this environment brings with it certain racial issues. However, it's handled so well that it isn't a major theme in the film. Apart from an opening scene where two of the title's seven defy the custom by burying a Native American in a white cemetery, there really is no further mention of prejudice. I appreciated that the filmmaker's took this stance and focused on more interesting themes. Even the violence is simply a means to an end, as the film is grounded in an admirable moral foundation. At its core, the film is all about doing right by your fellow man.
In addition to the philosophizing (the script has some insightful lines of dialogue), the film is most importantly incredibly entertaining. It's a well-made film in all aspects. John Sturges did a great directing job, especially with the inevitable shootouts, as they are excitingly choreographed. The film also puts it's great soundtrack to good use, as it keeps you engaged even if all you're seeing is a bunch of men riding from one destination to the next. Unlike some Westerns, it's also well-paced, as it doesn't wallow in long "stare downs" or meaningless subplots. It gives the actors the opportunity to shine and man, those seven are magnificent indeed.
The title characters (played by Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and Horst Buchholz) are perfectly cast. Some of the names may not be instantly recognizable but as you watch this, you could easily be fooled into thinking they were all A-list leading men. They all deliver authentic "movie star" performances with their effortless screen presence. What amazed me most was their ability to be macho and brawny without shoving it in your face. Westerns are sometimes regarded as frivolous or less respectable, but it's clear that these actors took their roles seriously and the film is much better because of it. As the main villain, Eli Wallach is also very compelling in his role. Though the film's narrative felt quite brisk, I really became invested in all the characters.
With it's thematic resonances and constant thrills, this is one of the most satisfying films I've seen. It's a great example of the capability of a Western to be thrilling and thought-provoking, just like the more standard dramas.

This film is part of my List of Shame.

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