Movie Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dark, twisted and hilarious. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to grow in strength with his disturbing latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

It seems the pattern of disturbingly good films by Yorgos Lanthimos continues to increase in range. For those familiar with his films of Dogtooth and The Lobster, Lanthimos’s latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, also explores a dark concept but with a twisted sense of humour. Once again, these two genres are balanced effortlessly throughout and the finish product is yet another masterclass from the director.

Colin Farrell stars in the lead role and is unfortunately placed into another caliginous scenario that sees him tested in different strengths. Without giving away the film’s main trick, Farrell plays a father of two with a loving wife, and is put to make an extremely difficult decision that will end up affecting the family dynamic forever.

Aside from watching the situation unfold as Farrell battles to resolve his dilemma, the entire universe Lanthimos creates is intriguing. From the very moment the film begins, you get the sense of unnatural behaviour just by the dialogue between two characters and this unease never leaves the screen.

It’s an almost like an entirely different world of humans, but they’re just not very human like. At least to what our society is used to. Great examples of this are the astute observations and over politeness each character exuberates. It’s just unnatural and purposefully executed as a subtle commentary on society. But moreover, it’s all awkwardly hilarious.

This is why I love Lanthimos’ films. Not only are they simply exploring a compelling dark concept, they’re quite funny at the same time. Most of these jokes comes from being in such unique situations that other films can’t make, because they’re simply not in the same position. Numerous times a character would say something in such an unusual but nonchalant way that it becomes hilarious to watch. And when it came moments of humour that were of the darker taste, these were executed flawlessly and without overstepping boundaries. Indeed, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fine piece for showing that the art of black comedy in 2017 is alive and well.

My only gripe with the film is that it is a bit of a slow burn and it can feel particularly sluggish at times. Especially within the middle third, where you’ve been introduced to the setup and are simply waiting for it to hurry to the climax. Part of this feels like it could have been edited or reworked to have more going on to keep interest, like in The Lobster.

But again, this is a minor complaint. The film is acted perfectly, with veteran actors of Farrell and Nicole Kidman as his wife particular standouts. Though the cinematography isn’t of anything scenic or picturesque, it does well to capture the darkness and unnatural tone on characters that the film clearly aims towards.

For lovers of The Lobster and black comedy films with unique and interesting concepts, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fantastic film and one sure to be on top ten lists for this year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 2017

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Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express

Hollywood once again recycles that which need not be recycled, in Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I see no other way to approach a review of a movie like this than to compare it to what’s come before. Its history is too deep. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted to radio; into a 1974 feature by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot; a 2001 TV movie with Alfred Molina in the role; and of course as an episode of the distinguished ITV Poirot series. It has even been remade in Japan. Now comes another version, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, and I find myself simply incapable of finding the right words to recommend it.

This is an adaptation that works on the fundamental level, which means it has a sound plot, supreme technical prowess and performances that befit its ludicrously high-profile cast. It is a movie that can be seen and appreciated in about equal measure without being spectacular. Whether it holds up as a faithful Christie adaptation I will leave to her loyal fans and scholars to determine; as a gripping murder mystery, it is neither gripping nor very mysterious.

To discuss the plot would be to grind against the very grain of Christie. Her stories are designed to unfold chronologically, so that we pick up hints and clues and slowly piece together the unfathomable puzzle along with her great detectives. The less we know going in the better. Murder on the Orient Express remains her most famous probably because of its claustrophobic setting (the length of a snowbound train), its immense cast of characters and the degree to which misdirection is employed to keep us guessing.

But all these are assets of the original story, not of this film. Branagh is perhaps a finer actor than he is a director, and he puts on a brave face as Poirot, but his film lacks in ingenuity and freshness. I can’t think of a single reason to see his version and not the Lumet classic, which had Finney scuttling down the corridors of the train like a frenzied crab. Branagh’s Poirot is unusually calm and chipper, which might have been a fun new take on the part if he had buckled down and took it to the edge. Poirot, like Sherlock Holmes, is a character of extremes. A detective of unusual intelligence who is easier to admire than befriend. To play him as anything less than a feverish snob is to miss the point.

Around him is assembled a cast of veritable class, which includes but is not limited to Michelle Pfeiffer as an uppity American socialite; Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor; Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham; Leslie Odom Jr as the handy doctor; Penélope Cruz as a faithful servant of the Lord; Judi Dench as the Princess Dragomiroff; Johnny Depp as the despicable businessman Ratchett; and Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi as his staff. Any more and I suspect the train would’ve toppled off the ridge.

Pity, then, that such great talent should go unchecked by a story as rich as this. Everyone plays their parts as if they know the end before the beginning. There is no thrill, no embracing the unexpected. It’s all just cogs turning in rhythm to the screenplay, which can be fatal for a mystery like this.

So I leave you rather nonplussed, unable to praise Orient Express enough to make you go see it, unable to exploit its weaknesses enough to turn you away. I don’t prefer it to some of the earlier iterations, but I suspect if you’ve never heard of Poirot and his impossible moustache, or perhaps even Christie, this movie might do the trick. But just barely.

Murder on the Orient Express is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017

Movie Review – A Bad Moms Christmas

Christmas will soon be upon us and along with it a new batch of seasonal films for the whole family – or sometimes just for the adults. A Bad Moms Christmas offers a variety of crudity and vile humor that aims to be as gross as it does shocking. If only any of it was remotely funny.


Josip Knezevic

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles from the first Bad Moms (yes I can’t believe they made a sequel as well), but this time they’re met with their equally bad counterparts – their own mums. It seems like this will be the trend for this year’s Christmas movies, with the upcoming Daddy’s Home 2 set to do much of the same thing, just with the opposite sex.

A Bad Moms Christmas seems to take the most basic form of monkey humour but branches it out to a platform that we haven’t seen before; motherhood. We don’t expect mums to be seen in such a light and that’s what’s meant to make it funny. It was the same reason Bad Santa was so popular but making something original doesn’t necessarily make it automatically hilarious. A bad joke is a bad joke, no matter how you polish it, and this is ultimately where the Bad Moms franchise is lacking.

Dialogue about penises or vaginal waxing feel only thrown in as an attempt to gather up laughs from shock value. Reactions of “oh my god I can’t believe a mum just said that, she’s not supposed to say that hahaha” are heavily relied upon throughout, but this doesn’t make the jokes genuinely hilarious. Soon enough, this whole routine becomes just tiresome. When humour that isn’t based off vulgarity does arrive, they’re mostly predictable from moments ahead of time or are simply yet another eye roller. This coming from a man who loves dad jokes. But maybe not just of the bad mum’s kind.

Aside from the humour, the overall plot follows a formulaic affair that, whilst touching on some heartfelt moments, isn’t anything special enough to be considered good. Not only have you seen the same moments in other Christmas films but they’re executed so much better elsewhere. And I’m not just talking about the classic Christmas flicks of Home Alone and The Santa Clause; Bad Santa manages to become a better antihero to enjoy on-screen. This is because his character is as believable as he is heartbroken and funny. He’s a nice balance between the bad that we can laugh at and the good that we ultimately sympathise with.

None of these aspects are found in A Bad Moms Christmas. What we are left with is another poor excuse for a chick flick that represents another missed opportunity for a genre that continues to add cheesy Christmas movie after cheesy Christmas movie. In a time where focus on women empowerment is at the forefront of so many films this year, A Bad Moms Christmas is a failure for many of those powerful leading examples and for women in general. Mums do amazing things for us and unfortunately, in this case, they deserve better.

A Bad Moms Christmas is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie Review – Jigsaw

Despite dying all the way back in Saw III, Jigsaw is back for an eighth twisted and gruesome game after a lengthy absence.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

More than a decade has passed since John Kramer, a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) – the man notorious for kidnapping people and putting them in traps that force them to mutilate themselves to escape death as a means of creating a newfound appreciation for life – and his circle of successors all met grisly ends. The violence has ceased, until now; as police shoot down a petty thug, a triggering mechanism is activated and sets in motion a new game played by five people trapped in a remote barn filled with diabolically lethal things at every turn. Mangled bodies start turning up, and as the investigative team, including Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and forensic doctors Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) dig deeper, all the evidence points to the late Jigsaw as the perpetrator.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch to predict that 2010’s Saw 3D was never going to be The Final Chapter as it claimed; nothing in Hollywood, especially in the horror genre (and especially one of the horror genre’s highest-grossing franchises) ever stays dead anymore, so by that logic Jigsaw was always inevitable. The good news is that its source is one of the genre’s most inventive, if not for the faint of heart series, and despite it having narratively driven itself into a dead end, this belated eighth entry manages to breathe a bit of new life into its corpse, doing its many fans justice and pulling off a few neat tricks of its own.

Taking the reins from its Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who remain as producers) is, appropriately, another Aussie horror filmmaking duo, The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination). Their biggest adjustment to proceedings is the visual style – gone is the grainy, low-grade camerawork, grungy bathrooms and rust as far as the eye can see, updated with slick cinematography and, for the first time, shiny and new-looking killing instruments. The Spierigs are aware that audience expectations have changed since Saw last soaked our screens in blood, and so the story deviates from the usual formula too; we follow the police investigation equally as much as the victims of the latest game, veering slightly away from the torture-porn trappings that later entries became and closer to the psychological thrills of the first film.

Which is not to say that Jigsaw isn’t gory; there are new traps here that rank up there with the series’ stomach-churning best, from the body-shredding spiral blade contraption to the flesh-cutting laser collars – fans can rest easy with the amount of blood and guts spilled. Pleasingly, after being sidelined for so long, the iconic Jigsaw himself takes centre stage once again, with the mystery of how exactly he has returned forming the core of the plot. Bell still dominates in his signature role, and the story that once again explores his backstory alongside his legacy makes a franchise that felt all out of places to go feel like it actually has plenty of fresh directions to take us in.

Updates aside, this is still quintessentially Saw, which does mean it shares the series problems too; most of which usually boil down to its writing. Though tricksy, it’s always relied on quite a large suspension of disbelief given the huge coincidences that cause everything to fall into place just right and push each plot point into place, and Jigsaw is no different. Again, the twist ending is awfully contrived and frankly ridiculous if you put even a smidgen of thought into it.

But though it doesn’t quite reach the franchise high point, Jigsaw surpasses a good portion of the sequels and exceeds expectations; though it won’t win Saw many new fans, and its potential as a series reboot remains to be seen, this is an interesting and satisfying enough long-awaited follow-up.

Jigsaw is available in Australian cinemas from November 02

 Image courtesy of Studio Canal Australia 2017

Movie Review – Suburbicon

George Clooney and the Coen Brothers are rockin’ the suburbs in this dark and twisted comedy.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

From prim and proper lawns to white picket fences and pastel pinafores, George Clooney’s Suburbicon is drenched in a sugary coating of classic Americana. Like a surreal waking nightmare akin to Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, this original script penned by Joel and Ethan Coen strips back its glossy sheen to reveal a grisly underbelly of crime, prejudice and deception with wildly mixed results.

Matt Damon plays Gardner, a meek middle management man whose life is thrown into chaos when two burglars break into his sleepy suburban home. His wife (Julianne Moore) and son (Noah Jupe) are caught in the middle of the melee. Meanwhile, next-door, new arrivals in the neighbourhood are ruffling some local feathers and perceived as a threat to the idyllic community.

The glossy cinematography and eccentric 1950s visual design is at least nice to look at in a heightened, hyperreal sense; a cute opening which acts as an advert for the homogenised community sets the tone before the cheeky kinkiness of Damon and Moore’s relationship reveals the true nature of this repressed fantasy. Suburbicon at least succeeds in accurately capturing its setting; it’s the haphazard narrative which causes this star-studded affair to misfire, as it struggles to effectively populate the film with something for audiences to latch onto.

With two vastly different ideas smashed into one, it should come as no surprise that Clooney’s sixth film as director is a mess. On the one side you have a darkly humorous take on the home invasion genre with the Coen Brothers lending their prodigious talent to the script; on the other you have Clooney and frequent collaborator Grant Heslov exploring race relations in 1950s America, also with a surreal and satirical spin.

While both are interesting ideas in their own right, they don’t mesh very well when stacked next to one another. Tonally, Suburbicon is just all over the shop. Is it a serious recount of true events that deals with racism or a twisted murder mystery dripping with sticky murders and chain-smoking gangsters? Pick a lane, Clooney.

The former is certainly apt given the identity crisis currently unfolding across America (Clooney makes a point to have his antagonists unfurl a Confederate flag, hammering home his stance on the matter) and the latter is a gleeful noir that feels at home alongside other Coen Brothers joints like Fargo and Burn After Reading. On their own, it would work; mixed together, it never gels.

It doesn’t help that none of the characters save for one or two minor players are actually likeable; Damon plays a dickbag who deserves all the pain and suffering he gets while Moore is lumped with an odd dual role that dissolves into a quietly psychotic and hysterical housewife. Oscar Isaac’s fleeting contribution adds a certain spark to proceedings, thickening the plot and bringing some crucial laughs. Other than that, it’s slim pickings.

Without a coherent through-line to tie it together, Suburbicon fails to deliver on its initial promise. The dark comedy is hit and miss, the disjointed to and fro of the screenplay never settles on a tone and its talented cast – save for Isaac – is sleepwalking through the swirl of half-baked ideas. Definitely one to skip.

Suburbicon is available in Australian cinemas from October 26 

Image courtesy of Road Show Films 2017

 

 

 

Movie Review – Baywatch

American comedies are stuck in a rut and Baywatch isn’t the solution.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Baywatch is the latest in an increasingly long line of self-aware remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s TV shows to be given the Jump Street treatment. Lewd, crude and 100% aware of its own stupidity, this new breed of comedy remakes is following the trail blazed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, only to much less success.

Let me say this straight up; Baywatch is not a good movie in any quantifiable sense. It’s really dumb, aggressively stupid and a blatant attempt to cash-in on the same vein of ‘90s nostalgia that prompted Hollywood to think a gritty reboot of Power Rangers was a good idea. It’s every other raunchy R-rated comedy (Bad Neighbours, Horrible Bosses) redressed, reheated and rereleased into cinemas just like we get every couple of months.

And yet, despite this pervading sense of suffocating mediocrity, it’s incredibly hard to critique a film like Baywatch. Not because it’s a shining star of wit and ingenuity, but because the film and everyone involved are leaning really hard into its own silliness in an awkward and ham-fisted attempt to appear cool or irreverent. They want us to think they’re in on the joke too, almost like they know the film is disposable and just kinda crap but they’re going to roll with it anyway because trying is for losers. Let me tell you, two hours of stifling smugness and self-importance does not make for a good time.

That’s not to say Baywatch doesn’t offer some semblance of entertainment. There are a handful of amusing gags in here, such as the playful banter and one-upmanship displayed by Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. The former, as always, is immensely likeable and the latter wholeheartedly embraces his meathead typecasting with gusto. A couple of the supporting characters, namely Jon Bass’ Ronnie and Alexandra Daddario’s Summer, deliver some laughs also.

But Baywatch isn’t able to give them much to work with. Efron’s character struggles to find a consistent arc throughout the film, covering everything from sympathetic and washed-up to dim-witted and clumsy whilst lead love interest Summer has next to no discerning character traits whatsoever, tasked instead with spending 80% of her screen time on the fringes of the frame looking bemused and batting her eyelashes.

Maybe I’m just thinking about this too much, but one could make the case that Baywatch is emblematic of everything wrong with mainstream Hollywood comedies nowadays. Underdeveloped on plot, overlong on runtime, overdependent on improvisation and unnecessarily crude for the sake of it, Baywatch really doesn’t do anything other than the bare minimum. It’s got boobs, bums and biceps, some of which are attached to fine specimens like Efron and Daddario. Throw in a couple of lazy cameos, uninspired action sequences and an ending that sets up the sequel and there’s your film.

If you ask me, that’s not nearly enough when it comes to the vast range of techniques a filmmaker could and should employ to make an audience laugh. When your biggest gag is an aroused fat kid getting his knob stuck in a sun lounger, you know something needs to improve.

Baywatch is available in Australian cinemas from June 1

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Movie Review – The Light Between Oceans

The austere beauty of the visuals and the quiet strength of the performances are at times overwhelmed by the predictable melodrama at the centre of the film.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Charlie Lewis

With his rugged jawline and haunted, piercing eyes, Michael Fassbender was born to be filmed looking pensively out to sea. It is a talent that Derek Cianfrance’s sweeping tear jerker The Light Between Oceans (based on M.L Stedman’s novel) regularly calls upon.

Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a WWI veteran who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia. The purposeful solitude of this role is all he wants after the horrors of the Western Front. When he is forced to talk to other people, he is terse and quiet, until the person he’s talking to is Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a local girl who punctures Sherbourne’s world like a sunbeam through overcast skies. The pair eventually marry and after their initial idyll, fate imposes more hardship and loss on two people who have had enough of both to fill several lifetimes.

The early sequences in The Light Between Oceans are lyrical and affecting, particularly as Tom and Isabel fall for one another; their chemistry glows against the perpetual gloom of the island’s austere terrain. Tom’s self-loathing survivor’s guilt and Isabel’s determination to create something better for them drive the most consequential moments of the film.

But as the misfortune and cruelty pile up, the film severs the connection between us and the characters. They gradually cease being the recognisable humans we fell in love with, and become silent targets for punishment. By the time the film snaps back into focus, the damage is done. The distancing is furthered by the casting. I welcome the peppering of Australian character actors (Garry McDonald, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown) and I understand, without approving of, the decision to cast three non-Australian’s in the biggest roles, but the combination is distracting.

Still, for all its broad melodrama and unmistakable Oscar bait tendencies, The Light between Oceans delivers stirring imagery and giddy yet understated romance early on.

The Light Between Oceans is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of eOne Films 

Movie Review – Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon is a visceral depiction of a disastrous nightmare that will leave you wanting a shower, some ice cream and a few band-aids.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, a crew member on the oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, based in the Gulf of Mexico.  An ill-fated test causes the entire platform to tear itself apart, leaving the battered crew to try and find a way out of the greasy inferno.

Williams is but one of several staff that share a somewhat equal amount of screen time, including the stern boss, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and greedy corporate suit, Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich).  There are no heroes in this story.  Only victims.  All actors are comfortable in their roles and we spend enough time with these characters to get a sense of natural comradery amongst the crew.  These genuine human moments are the high points of Deepwater Horizon, especially between Williams’ and his distraught wife (Kate Hudson) during and after the catastrophe.  However, much is lost in the crew’s technical jargon leavened throughout the film’s first half.

There’s a lot of build up to one long, hellish climax, but unless this movie is shown as a horrifying safety video at an oil rig convention, the viewer isn’t going to pick up on a lot of the mechanical details.  The character’s arrival to Deepwater Horizon is followed by lengthy chatter about the machine’s inner workings, and with a poorly explained Negative Pressure Test, violently shaking pipes do nothing to explain what’s actually happening.  This is made worse by the fact that we’re barely shown the overall layout of the platform, so rooms feel unnecessarily compartmentalized, resulting in confusing scenes.

Nonetheless, Deepwater Horizon’s apex is, of course, the titular rig’s disaster and its explosive results are easily worth the price of admission.  What starts as a brutal burst of oil, builds into blistering fires and explosions.  You feel every eruption as crew are thrown head first into solid walls and steel equipment, only out-done by two scenes involving a glass shard and a dislodged bone, both providing empathetic groans from the audience. The movie then quickly ends after the event.  It makes me wonder why this wasn’t just made into a documentary instead of a Hollywood re-enactment of a true tragedy.

Deepwater Horizon isn’t anything special, but is still a gruesome reminder of how lucky we all are.  You’ll get a few chuckles from the crew’s banter but as soon as the test begins, there’ll be nothing but tears and groans – in a good way.  If you’re willing to get through a rather average build up, the ensuing chaos is well worth the wait.

Deepwater Horizon is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday October 6th 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven delivers good feelings and professional entertainment value, but does little to distinguish itself from its formidable forebears.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The worst scene in The Magnificent Seven comes right at the end; undoing what the rest of the movie worked so hard to achieve. The point of this story – first envisioned in Kurosawa’s sprawling masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954), later reimagined in countless other tributes and remakes (including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) – is selflessness in the line of honour. The samurai were honourable warriors, bound by bushido. Cowboys were bound by their egos. What they shared in common was the rejection of self-gain. The 1960 Magnificent Seven understood this. This new Hollywood remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua, tacks on a closing scene that converts its guns-for-hire into immortalised heroes, effectively gut-punching itself.

And what a pity that is, because the rest of it feels like a solid Western. It’s not limp or dated. Its production values are convincing. It comes meaty, ready for a fight. In an age where filmmakers favour CGI shortcuts, Fuqua has made the right decision to root his film in solid ground. The town of Rose Creek is actually there, built with wood and nails. Explosions are rigged and timed. Stuntmen tumble off rooftops and plough through windows. Physical action gives the movie weight and visual depth, a leisure that’s no longer easy to come by.

Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the Yul Brynner character from the original remake, and doesn’t so much chew up the scenery as stand back and admire it. Washington is always reliable, but here he seems too passive to be the leader of a troupe of gun-slinging, macho monkeys. I can’t remember a single impressive thing he does in the entire film.

Elsewhere, the cast tries to be as diverse as politically and financially possible. It introduces a Korean knife-thrower (Lee Byung-Hun); a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) in full cabrón mode; and throws in a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) for good measure. The problem is, by the time the big old gunfight thunders its way around the corner, none of these “interesting” characters do anything worth noting. And the gunfight, as impressive as it is, resembles a chaos party hosted by anarchy. It’s hard to tell what’s happening, and to whom. There are so many bad guys for our heroes to gun down that you might begin to suspect they’re growing out of the soil like potatoes.

But for what it’s worth, this Magnificent Seven is a good, harmless time. The interplay between the characters is often electric and the way the screenplay whittles down the ensemble cast shows restraint and diplomacy. It is, however, still a movie that need not have been made. But it has, and we’re neither better or worse off for it. I just wish the final scene had been omitted. It reeks of studio interference. I don’t want to have to wait for a home release to catch an alternate ending.

The Magnificent Seven is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures