What a waste. A cast like this, a story like this and we get…oatmeal. Bad oatmeal, hastily cooked and quickly forgotton.
Sigh. All right, let’s talk about this. I was really looking forward to this movie, so I had some expectations, mostly due to Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington. And in truth, those two are solid in this. Denzel can act, man* and Chris Pratt has charisma. There’s solid work or entertaining work at least from Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke, even Byung-hun Lee –a Korean playing Chinese?- is good**. But the script is terrible and some of the directing choices are baffling.
A bad script kills a movie, even one based on a story told twice (or more) times already. There was some good dialog, some of it was so fun and natural that I assume it was ad-libbed, but the rest is a mess. The editing wasn’t quite Suicide Squad levels of bad, but it wasn’t good.
All right, let’s talk about what was good and what wasn’t. The good first.
As mentioned, some good or entertaining acting in this. Washington or Pratt in a scene automatically makes it watchable. Vincent D’Onofrio seems to know he’s in a crappy remake and is having fun with his character. Ethan Hawke is giving a solid try at playing a rattled PTSD Confederate vet and as I mentioned, Byung-hung Lee is also good. The gunfights are mostly good, decently choreographed though the sign of a bad Western is present as I think people reloaded maybe twice in the whole movie. But back on the good…the set and costume design is very period and well done, with one glaring, jiggly exception we’ll get to. There’s even a slight hat tip to the kind of tensions that should be there with a diverse cast and there are both good-guy Indians AND bad-guy Indians, which was surprising in a movie that is clearly trying for Diversity with a capital D. I’m afraid that’s it for good, on to the bad.
Where to begin? Maybe a list.
- The cast is so multi-cultural that it boggles the mind. Seriously, it’s like the took out a checklist and started assembling the cast from that. Now I hate identity politics with a passion and I would have loved to just ignored everyone’s color and culture and just enjoy their characters but this….this is too much. We have: a Black guy, a Mexican guy, an Asian guy (named Billy Rocks? WTF? Billy Rocks???), an Indian guy, Southern guy, a Religious guy, a hot girl and Chris Pratt. Now the movie plays a little bit with the tensions that this group SHOULD create, but only a little. There’s some light taunting among the 7 and some mild flirting or interest in the hot girl but that’s it. None of the villagers comment on a red Indian coming into the village, in war paint no less. Look, I know this is basically a Western fantasy but this is too much. The 19th century was a time when the races did not mix. The idea of egalitarian universal brotherhood of man was limited to a very few, typically a few very devout Christian sects. Yes, there were female outlaws and Black cowboys and more Mexicans than you can shake the Alamo at in the Old West. But there were no Asian gunslingers, I checked. The tensions between northerners and southerners was still alive…ah I’ll leave it there. You get my point. Too much.
- Haley Bennett’s tits. I am an unapologetic fan of the female form and I am not terribly feminist but the way Haley Bennett was dressed in this felt more like a Michael Bay movie than an period piece. In every single scene, until the end, her tits are up thrust and almost falling out of her top. I’m not talking mild cleavage, I’m talking “Sophia Loren is looking at you in distaste” levels of décolletage. And this is baffling because, all the other wives and mothers are dressed very period-appropriate, in high necked dresses with long sleeves. She’s supposed to be a married woman, a recent widow no less (Spoilers) and she dresses like the whores that are everywhere.
- There are whores everywhere. Seriously, in almost every scene we have women with bare legs and nearly-bare chest. Prostitute was far, far, far from unknown in the Old West. But it wasn’t this blatant. They have girls in broad daylight in front of bordellos like this was New Orleans during Marti Gras. And there’s no reason for it. Girls aren’t going to like this. And guys are already going to come because people are going to be shooting guns. So why? This has to rest on the Director, Antoine Fuqua, and I’m baffled because the guy has done such good work before.
- Dumb and lifeless bad guys. Peter Sarsgaard is barely there. He’s about as subtle as Darth Vader, but lacking his depth and subtlety. Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Look, this exact scenario of a very rich guy coming in and taking over a valley or a mining area actually happened. For real. And it was nothing like this. They could have made a great bad guy but they went with a cartoon. And then there’s the final attack…Everyone is running around with pistols out, instead of the rifles and shotguns that they should be carrying. Nobody runs away or falls back to regroup or tries to use cover or do ANYTHING to save their own life. The Orcs in the Lord of the Rings were more subtle and had more character. None of the secondary villains stand out, except the Indian wearing parts of a Union uniform jacket. Your good guys need decent bad guys to overcome. Otherwise they might as well be shooting the stuffed dummies we see briefly in the movie.
- Missed opportunities to deepen relationships. The movie has no time to develop anything. We have one real bonding scene with the 7, we’re literally told ‘I think we’re bonding’. Washington and Pratt are given none of the shared respect you got between Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen, the sense of two professionals against one hell of a big task. We don’t get time to see the 7 trying to relate to these villagers they’re here to defend, and die for. There’s some threat of romance between Pratt and Bennett but it’s not developed or pursued. When she announces she’ll take the place of one of the 7 who fled, she’s basically ignored. She’s ignored most of the movie in fact, leaving her to hop up and down and demand attention from a director, a writer and characters that don’t even bother to condescend to her. I swear to God, I could fix these problems with 3 minutes of screen time and you’d actually care about these characters.
- Oh God, the voice-overs. From the opening scene to the very last NARRATION over the graves of the fallen 7, we are told – not shown – what is happening. It’s like someone stuck in some ADR voices so drunk guys watching this who blacked out for a moment can pick up where they left off. You get crap like: “What about our land”, “We gotta mine that gold” or “There’s more gold in the wagon” or “He looks serious”, all just tossed in, constantly from characters that serve no other purpose than to say that line in passing and scurry off. It is the sloppiest, crappiest screenwriting I’ve seen in a while.
I’ve got to stop. This movie doesn’t even deserve a serious critique. It’s crap and waste of talent. Not recommended.
*Just don’t ask him to do romance, that he can’t do.
**Seriously, he’s good. I’m going to go look up his other movies…he has 37 others done