Nine years after directing the well-received The Great Debators legendary actor Denzel Washington decided to once again sit in the director’s chair to bring award-winning theatre production Fencesto the big screen. The result was a film that received a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. It also saw Washington nominated for Best Leading Actor while it picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Viola Daviswho plays Washington’s embattled wife in the film.
For Washington this was a passion project and it obvious listening to him talk about the film that he fell in love with this story way back in 2010 when he appeared in the play the film is based on on Broadway. He begins by recounting what it was like to meet with the play’s author – the late August Wilson – for the first time. “I spent a lovely day with him. I flew up to Seattle. It rained all day and he just smoked cigarette after cigarette and he was writing… I don’t know who set it up… but he was writing Gem Of The Ocean and it might have been my agent who suggested that I go up there, but I went up to see him and we just talked all day. He talked about how he writes plays, how he locks the doors, shuts the windows and he basically writes what the characters tell him to write so I guess he was telling me ‘I’m not just writing for you I’m writing what I’m compelled to write’ which was just fine with me. I just remember that day was a lovely day.”
Not many actors get to reprise their role from a theatre production up on the big screen and Washington is only too happy to talk about what the differences were playing Troy on the stage to what it was like bringing the character to film. “I think it only helped that I was able to, I couldn’t imagine trying to do this having not done it on stage first. There was no time to try and figure out who Troy was when we were shooting the movie so to number one know the character and to know that we did a production that worked, you know we got the response from the audience and the accolades and that kind of stuff, so I knew it worked but that also added more pressure because it was like ‘don’t screw it up now.’ But I just knew I had to get the camera in front of the actors and just let them do what they had been doing all along.”
So what did he focus on capturing as director? “The truth!” he exclaims. “The truth. That was it – period. The camera is always going to capture what you are doing so if you are lying and you’re not supposed to be then it is going to catch you doing that. The universal stems from the specific, so everything down to the last button. If it says 2.30 on the clock on the wall then it should say 2.30 on the watch – whether you see it or not.”
As we saw on Oscar night it was the stars around Washington in the cast that also made Fences such an enjoyable film and Washington is not only full of praise for all of them but tells us what it was like to direct them. “You never want to crush an actor,” he explains. “I’ve been on the other side where a director has been like ‘well I think he would do this’ and I’m always like ‘well why don’t you get up here and do it then if that’s what you think?’ There are all kinds of truth, just because I’m the director that doesn’t mean that I know THE truth, I’m there to discover just like everybody else. You know what they say – eighty percent of it is about casting, so get the best and let them do what they do then just see what happens. With Jovan Adepo (who plays Washington’s son) I remember him coming in and I wasn’t hard on the young actors but I wanted to push them around to really see if they could handle it because Jovan and Saniyya Sidney (who plays Washington’s daughter) they had to catch up to the rest of us, especially Jovan, and he was just head-and-shoulder above the rest. He just had this naturalness and honesty in him. He was actually up for a role with Antoine Fuqua (who directed Washington in Training Day) and he said he was the best kid going around and I said ‘well why aren’t you hiring him?’ and he said ‘well I want somebody edgy in my film’ but he was the best actor who had come in and read. Needless to say that gave him a leg up on everybody else.”
While Denzel Washington himself didn’t walk away with an Academy Award for Fences it is a film that is a highlight amongst his acting career, it is a film that reminds audiences that he is also a fine director in his own right as well.
Summary: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.
Australian Cinema Release Date: 29th September 2016
Australian DVD Release Date: TBA
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenwriter: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk, Akira Kurosawa (original script), Shinobu Hashimoto (original script), Hideo Oguni (original script)
Cast: Alix Angelis (Clara Wintrhop), Mark Ashworth (Preacher), Walker Babington (Dicky), Jackson Beals (One Eyed Lucas), Emil Beheshti (Maxwell), Haley Bennett (Emma Cullen), Thomas Blake Jr. (Earl), Matt Bomer (Matthew Cullen), Sean Boyd (Topper), Sean Bridgers (Fanning), Vic Browder (Arcade Jones), Ryan Brown (Ken Pigeon), Vincent D’Onofrio (Jack Horne), Griff Furst (Phillips), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Vasquez), Cam Gigandet (McCann), Luke Grimes (Teddy Q), Ethan Hawke (Goodnight Robicheaux), Clint James (Fenton), Cedric D. Jones (Curtis), Vinnie Jones (uncredited), Jonathan Joss (Denali), David Kallaway (Turner/Blacksmith), Derek Lacasa (Len Pigion), Dylan Langlois (R.L. Garrett), Carrie Lazar (Leni Frankel), Byung-hun Lee (Billy Rocks), Heath Lemme (Heath), David Manzanares (Referee/Eddy), Rictchie Montgomery (Gavin David), Jody Mullins (Caleb Frankel), Matthew Posey (Hank Stoner), Chris Pratt (Josh Faraday), Dodge Prince (Anthony), Chad Randall (Bartender/Powder Dan), Dane Rhodes (Sheriff Harp), Peter Sarsgaard (Bartholomew Bogue), William Lee Scott (Moody), Martin Sensmeier (Red Harvest), Billy Slaughter (Josiah), Denzel Washington (Chisolm), Kevin Wayne (Monday Durant)
Runtime: 133 mins
OUR THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN REVIEWS & RATINGS:
One question always has to be asked when a remake of a film surfaces… why was the remake made? Was it because a director thought he had a more creative or ‘modern’ way to tell the original story? Was it because a team of filmmakers thought that current day technology could improve on what was made decades ago? Sadly, none of these questions seem to answer that question about the remake of the legendary western The Magnificent Seven (which itself was a remake of Seven Samurai).
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) this remake sees honest lawman Chisolm (Denzel Washington – American Gangster) recruited by innocent widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett – The Equalizer) whose husband was murdered when he stood up against corrupt gold mining company owner Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard – Green Lantern) who has taken a town hostage as he takes land via violent means.
When Chisolm is convinced to take on Bogue and his men in a bid to rescue the town he puts together a group that includes gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt – Guardians Of The Galaxy), burnt out Civil War veteran Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke – Good Kill), tribe hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio – Law & Order: Criminal Intent), knife expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee – Terminator Genisys), native warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeir – Lilin’s Brood) and the wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo – Cake).
There are of course positives and negatives to this remake. One of the positives is getting to see Denzel Washington play yet another strong leading man, and I would be lying if I said it’s not great to see a big budget Western back on the big screen, hopefully this is a start of a lot more.
Sadly though the negatives outweigh the positives. While the film holds up its entertainment value and looks visually good the disappointing thing is that this is modern remake doesn’t offer the audience anything different to what we have been watching in this genre for the last fifty years. There’s no new tactical ways for a battle to be fought out or even any new creative ways to shoot the movie by Fuqua and his team.
The other big disappointment is the screenplay. While the film does at times raise the suspense and tension it misses other key moments that really could have made this a better film. It is really believable that a native American warrior would fight on the same team as a tribe hunter without any form of hostility or tension? Likewise there needed to be a better explanation to why Chisholm joins the fight in the first place… the explanation comes way too late in the film. Don’t even get me started on the weak CGI graves at the end of the film either.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment though is how the screenplay lets down the cast. Denzel Washington gets a chance to star in this film… the rest don’t. Chris Pratt is obviously there for comic relief (a hat that certainly doesn’t fit his character) and ends up just playing the same character he did in Guardians Of The Galaxy. The rest of the cast seem to end up playing clichés though with Manuel Garcia-Rulfo completely wasted in his role. The only other upside with the acting is with Emily Bennett who does more than enough to suggest that she can be a leading lady in the future.
The Magnificent Seven may be enough to entertain a modern audience and provide the odd bit of suspense throughout. But for seasoned fans of the Western genre the film offers nothing new and will easily be seen as a fair bit weaker than the original.
John Sturges’ classic 1960 western The Magnificent Seven made stars out of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn (who all later appeared in Sturges’ epic WWII adventure The Great Escapein 1963). Sturges’ film was inspired by the Akira Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samurai, regarded by some critics as the greatest action movie ever made. Kurosawa was inspired by the Hollywood westerns of the 50s, and, ironically, his film influenced many westerns that followed including the spaghetti westerns of the late great Sergio Leone. The 1960 film was a huge success and spawned a couple of sequels and even a short lived television series. And now we get this remake from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen, etc) who knows his western tropes and has in turn borrowed heavily from some the great directors of the genre, from John Ford through to Eastwood, Peckinpah and Leone.
It’s 1879. The small but peaceful farming town of Rose Creek is under threat from ruthless and greedy mining magnate Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), a robber baron who is desperate to corner the market on all mining activities in the region. Anyone who opposes him is either viciously beaten or killed, and the megalomaniacal Bogue has assembled a veritable army of mercenaries and lawless types to enforce his will. But the newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, from The Equalizer, Hardcore Henry, etc) wants to stop Bogue. She approaches bounty hunter Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) and pleads with him to help. Chisholm agrees and sets off to round up an assortment of gunslingers to make a stand in what could well be a suicide mission. (Sounds familiar? It was a key plot device of films like The Dirty Dozen and the recent Suicide Squad.)
This time around the seven he assembles are a much more racially diverse bunch. Apart from Chisholm himself there is Faraday (Chris Pratt, from Guardians Of The Galaxy and Jurassic World), a wise cracking card sharp and gunslinger; the boozy Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a sharp shooter who is still damaged by his experiences of fighting in the Civil War; his knife wielding offsider Billy Rocks (Korean action star Byung-hun Lee); the hulking John Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, from Full Metal Jacket, etc), a renowned and feared Indian hunter; the Texican gunman Vasquez (Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); and the comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), who has been cast out of his tribe. This motley crew have just seven days to train the frightened townsfolk in the skills necessary to fight back against Bogue and to defend their village.
The build up to the key siege of the town is a little slow. There are several scenes of the men sitting around in a saloon and drinking and talking, and these scenes slowly tease out character details and backstories, and show the slow camaraderie that develops between them before all hell breaks loose. There is fair amount of humour here to leaven the violence.
Unlike many recent remakes that have tarnished the memories of the original film (think Ben Hur, etc), this new take on the classic The Magnificent Seven is quite good. It exploits the tropes of a traditional western in its formula. Many of the classic westerns of yesteryear explored the myth of one good man standing up to evil on the wild frontier and dispensing justice. But writers Richard Wenk (The Equalizer, etc) and Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective, etc) also effectively use the formula to explore some more contemporary themes of corporate greed, courage, loyalty, heroism, sacrifice, and even a hint of feminism that will resonate strongly with modern audiences.
As he showed with Olympus Has Fallen, Fuqua knows how to stage some exciting and spectacularly visceral action sequences. There is an early gunfight in the dusty streets of Rose Creek that is tense and well-staged, and it sets the scene for the climactic attack on the town. This rousing 30 minutes action sequence is the highlight here, a gritty and violent and superbly choreographed set piece full of gun play, carnage and pyrotechnics that doesn’t disappoint. In the original, the villainous Calveros brought just thirty bandits to attack the village; here Bogue brings a veritable army of a hundred men, plus a deadly Gatling gun, to the fray. This version of The Magnificent Seven has the highest body count of any western since The Wild Bunch.
The film looks good thanks to the widescreen cinematography of Fuqua’s regular cinematographer Mauro Fiore that captures the harsh beauty of the epic landscapes. The film also features the last soundtrack composed by the late James Horner, and the music also pays homage to Elmer Bernstein’s memorable theme music for the 1960 original.
Performances are a bit of a mixed bag. This is Washington’s third collaboration with Fuqua (following his Oscar winning turn while cast against type in Training Day and The Equalizer) and the director seems to be able to tap into the meaner side of an actor known for playing essentially decent characters with strong moral fibre. Pratt brings a jocular and easy going charisma to his role and he provides most of the comic relief. Sarsgaard comes across as the cliched bad guy with no redeeming features whatsoever, and he does all but twirl his moustache with a cliched performance as Bogue, who is filled with contempt for the poor struggling and hardworking farmers. Hawke brings some pathos and nuances to his performance as the former soldier wrestling with a form of psychological disorder following his experiences, and he is the most complex character here. Bennett’s performance as the feisty Emma reminded me a little of Hailee Steinfeld in the recent remake of True Grit.
As a genre, the western has been dead for many years despite some attempts to bring it back to life on the big screen with films like Tarantino’s superb and violent Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and the visually stunning The Revenant, etc. This reimagining of the classic The Magnificent Seven is a solid western, full of action, gunplay, and featuring a strong ensemble cast that should appeal to audiences.
This week on The Good The Bad The Ugly Film Show Adam, Dave, Greg and Nick take a look at new release films ‘Equity,’ ‘Life Animated,’’Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Chilren,’ ‘Wednesday May 9,’ ‘I Am Not A Serial Killer,’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven’. This episode also contains interviews with Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, Mija Gwyn (The Other Film Festival), James Hewison (Lies & Secrets – ACMI), Michael Eng (POWFolio), Rick Strom (POWFolio) and Gautier Cazenave (House Of VHS).
You can listen to The Good The Bad The Ugly Film Show or download it for free from our Podcast Channel – Listen/Download here.
This week on The Good The Bad The Ugly Film Show Adam, Dave, Greg and Nick take a look at new release films ‘Life Of Crime’, ”In Bloom,’ ‘The Little Death,’ ‘The Equalizer,’ ‘Land Of The Bears,’ and ‘The Skeleton Twins′. This episode alsocontains an interview with Josh Lawson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Denzel Washington and Peter Dickson.
Also make sure you take a listen to see what you need to do to win a copy of Romeo + Juliet on DVD thanks to Icon Distribution.
At the moment, award season buzz is centering largely around the magnificent performances of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club.” The two men’s performances have reminded a lot of film journalists at how well some actors have depicted gay characters on screen over the years, so let’s take a look at some of the actors who played gay characters not only well, but tastefully and with respect.
Russell Crowe: Yes, it may come as a complete surprise to many, but the great Russell Croweonce played a homosexual character on the big screen. It was before Crowe was making Hollywood blockbusters like “Gladiator,” so people can be excused if they haven’t heard of the film, but it was in an Australian film called “The Sum Of Us.” If you haven’t seen it, then you may certainly want to hunt it down and give it a watch because directors Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling did a pretty decent job. The film itself has Crowe play Jeff Mitchell a young gay man searching for Mr. Right. His search brings him closer to his father, Harry Mitchell (Jack Thompson), who is now in the look for Miss Right. Touching, yet entertaining, the film is just a true romantic drama.
Ian Somerhalder: Long before he was playing vampire Damon Salvatore in “The Vampire Diaries,” Ian Somerhalder appeared in the very underrated flick “The Rules Of Attraction.” The flick was closely linked to “American Psycho,” was directed by Roger Avary and never really received the recognition it deserved as its alternative style of film-making made it an absolute gem. Somerhalder played Paul Denton, a young gay college student, who was disillusioned with the ‘queens’ around him and finds himself falling in love with the troubled and nasty Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) who was accidentally breaking hearts right across the campus.
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal: How could anybody put together a list of actors who have played gay characters without mentioning Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger? When Ang Lee first put together “Brokeback Mountain,” even he admitted he wasn’t sure how the film would be received, after all was there a market for a film about a gay relationship between two cowboys? He need not have worried as the film went on to record 100 award wins worldwide, including three Oscars. It also earned Oscar nominations for Michelle Williams and the two male leads Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Ledger and Gyllenhaal put in brilliant performances as they played Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, two young cowboys involved in a passionate yet troubled relationship.
Michael Douglas and Matt Damon: When it was first announced that Michael Douglas would be playing Liberace and Matt Damon his boyfriend, Scott Thorson, the film world scoffed. In fact, they more than scoffed because the roles both seemed so out of character for both actors that many thought the film would just not work and it was pretty much decided that “Behind The Candelabra” was going to become a car-wreck of a film. People should never have doubted the creative mind of director Steven Soderbergh because he brought out the best in both actors, so much so that film critic Adam Ross was quoted on The Good The Bad The Ugly Film Show as saying “Douglas was so far into character it looked like he wanted to jump Damon between takes.” So good were Douglas and Damon’s performances that both have had their names mentioned during awards season.
Sean Penn: Another actor who ended up becoming an award winner while playing a gay character was Sean Penn. Penn picked up the Best Actor Academy Award in 2009 when he appeared in Gus Van Sant’s film “Milk” in the title role – playing gay activist Harvey Milk. His fellow co-star Josh Brolin also picked up the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for playing Dan White in the film that had critics ecstatic upon its release.
Tom Hanks: The great Tom Hanks also picked up an Oscar for playing a gay character when back in 1993. He played Andrew Beckett, a lawyer suffering from AIDS in the “Philadelphia.” The film not only educated the world on how hard it is for somebody infected with AIDS, but also dealt a valuable lesson about homophobia as Beckett is forced to work with a homophobic lawyer named Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). The film may be over 20 years now, but if you have never seen “Philadelphia” then it is certainly worth taking a look at.
With so many actors winning awards over the years for playing gay characters then it may seem like Mr. McConaughey and Mr. Leto might be in a good position as we all head into Awards season.