There are nods to the rich visual tradition and symbolism of the Western, but The Magnificent Seven is more concerned with riding into multiplex land as a mainstream action film
The Magnificent Seven (12A) ***
The Girl With All The Gifts (15) **
Scottish Mussel (15) *
Little Men (PG) ****
There’s probably no point in time in which a story about a gang of outlaws banding together to defend the weak from a ruthless bully won’t be appealing. The new version of The Magnificent Seven does make it seem a bit dull, though. A remake of a remake of an indisputable classic, Antoine Fuqua’s latest collaboration with Denzel Washington (after Training Day and The Equalizer) doesn’t suffer from over-familiarity with either the 1960 Hollywood version or that film’s inspiration: Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. It suffers from a general lack of spark.
In this version, set a decade or so after the Civil War, Washington takes the lead as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter by trade who agrees to help a righteous widow called Emma (Haley Bennett) save her small mining town from an aspiring capitalist who goes by the name of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Bogue has just killed Emma’s husband in cold blood and is in the process of intimidating the surviving residents into surrendering their land for a fraction of its value. Chisolm, who hints that he’s got his own beef with Bogue, agrees to help, and swiftly rounds up a band of misfits that includes Chris Pratt’s quick-draw gunslinger Josh Farraday and Washington’s Training Day partner Ethan Hawke as an ex-Confederate sharp shooter suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The latter also works with a Korean knife-thrower called Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun) so he comes as part of the package. The rest of the seven are the bear-like Jack Horne (played by the bear-like Vincent D’Onofrio), a Mexican gunfighter called Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a lone Comanche who goes by the name of Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
The diversity of this cast goes mostly uncommented on in the script (which was co-written by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto). Instead any political commentary (contemporary or historical) is buried in the subtext… the subtext of a mainstream film about a racially mixed band of outlaws coming to the rescue of ordinary Americans under threat from a power-hungry tycoon.
Of course encoding westerns with cultural significance and symbolism is as old as the genre itself and this, along with Fuqua’s decision to keep the skies blue, the angles wide and the extensive bloodshed 12A-friendly, ensures The Magnificent Seven wears its revisionism very lightly compared to the likes of Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. But that’s also part of the problem. One of the benefits of working with a rock solid story is the freedom to create something distinctive with the constituent parts. In aspiring to present itself as a diverting mainstream action film, this only ever manages to be a diverting mainstream action film. Magnificence never enters the equation.
The Girl With All The Gifts suffers from a slightly different problem: this British zombie movie (adapted from MR Carey’s best-selling novel of the same name) aspires to greatness by pushing its social concerns and big ideas up front for all to see. But the film falls far short thanks to some pretty ropey writing, undistinguished direction and variable performances. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic near-future, one overrun with superfast zombies in which the fate of the human race may depend on uncovering the secrets contained in the genetic make-up of a ten-year-old girl (Sennia Nanua) with zombie instincts but human consciousness. That’s not a bad starting point and one can imagine this being pitched to funders as 28 Days Later meets Children of Men. Alas, the film has none of the visceral energy of the former or the emotional kick, sophisticated storytelling or virtuosic filmmaking of the latter. Instead it’s often too earnest, which makes it unintentionally funny in places. It also squanders what could have been a good final shot with the addition of a more feel-good epilogue.
Still, it’s a masterpiece compared to Scottish Mussel, but then anything is. The worst film ever made in Scotland is the directorial debut of writer and star Talulah Riley, whose attempt to make an opposites-attract romcom against the backdrop of an illicit pearl fishing trade in the Highlands is so bafflingly incompetent it almost feels avant-garde. Martin Compston looks thoroughly embarrassed as the Govan-based chancer who falls for Riley’s conservationist, while Inbetweeners star Joe Thomas (playing Compston’s friend) looks similarly mortified as he grapples with the Glasgow accent. Abysmal.
Little Men, on the other hand, is a low-key triumph. It’s the latest brilliantly nuanced family drama from American filmmaker Ira Sachs (Love is Strange), who has quietly established himself as one of the premiere chroniclers of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways contemporary life and relationships can be strained, undercut and defined by economics.
His latest continues that theme with a story about two Brooklyn-based kids (Theo Taplitz and Michael Barber) whose fast-forged friendship is challenged by their respective parents falling out over a property dispute in their newly gentrified neighbourhood. Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle star as Brian and Kathy, parents of the shy, artistic Jake (Taplitz), whose new friend Tony’s mother (played by Paulina García) rents the shop space they’ve just inherited – along with their new apartment – following the death of Jake’s grandfather. Taking care not to present any of the characters as saints or villains, Sachs builds up a complex and beautifully performed portrait of modern urban living that feels honest
and true. ■