Film and drama

Screen Themes – The Magnificent Seven vs Point Break 

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Remakes. Some people love them, some people loathe them. IA movie buff John Turnbull checks out a couple of remakes of "classic" movies and ponders the inevitable march of time.

The Magnificent Seven (2016) directed by Anton Fuqua

LET ME BEGIN this review with the caveat that I do not hold the 1960 iteration of this story in any particular reverence.

The Yul Brynner-led version isn’t a bad film by any means, but it is definitely a film of its time, with all of the pacing issues, casual racism and sexism that goes along with it.

Directed by John Sturges and starring a bunch of manly men, including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn, the film told the tale of a group of gunmen who are hired to defend a small town against marauding bandits.

Itself a remake of the 1954 Kurosawa film Seven Samurai, the original version of The Magnificent Seven ran for just over two hours — or almost three if you wanted to watch in on TV with ads. At two hours 13 minutes, the new version is a scant five minutes longer, but feels significantly shorter. While there are still the obligatory "riding horses against the sunset" Western tropes, director Anton Fuqua brings some of the action sensibility he bought to films like Training Day and the enjoyably ludicrous Olympus Has Fallen.

Replacing the all-white cast of the original are a diverse collection of misfits and outlaws, led by Denzel Washington’s stoic Chisolm. Chisolm is a man seeking revenge against robber-baron Bartholomew Bogue, played with mustache-twirling commitment by Peter Sarsgaard. On the side of the angels are gambler and amateur magician Faraday (Chris Pratt, essentially playing Starlord in the old west), traumatised Civil War sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his knife-wielding associate Billy Rocks (Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee), grizzled tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican gunman Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and wandering Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).  

The film follows a similar path its predecessors, as Chisolm is hired to protect a town and pulls together a group of gunmen to help him complete the task, most likely dying in the process. The first half of the movie is dedicated to bringing the group together and, aside from brief flashes of violence, feels much like a traditional Western movie. When the shooting starts, the film takes a much darker tone, and viewers unfamiliar with the "nobody is safe" style of movie are in for some big shocks.

Fans of the Western genre will find a lot to like in the new Magnificent Seven. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Mauro Fiore, and director Fuqua plays with familiar genre tropes enough to make them fresh and interesting. Along with the white-knuckle violence (of which there is plenty) the film has a sly vein of humour throughout, often driven by Vincent D’Onofrio’s gruff tracker. Described early in the film as a "bear in man clothes", Jack Horne is a delight, borderline incomprehensible but full of heart, once again demonstrating that D’Onofrio is one of the most underrated actors of his generation.

Point Break (2015) directed by Ericson Core

Few people consider the original Point Break a "classic", except perhaps from an ironic point of view. Starring the late Patrick Swayze at the top of his game, a young Keanu Reeves on the verge of stardom and a middle-aged Gary Busey before he went completely off the rails, Point Break tells the story of rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah who goes undercover to arrest a gang of surfing bank robbers.

Trying to describe the plot of the 2016 remake isn’t so simple. It still features a rookie FBI agent, although "Utah" is only a nickname in this one, because he comes from Utah, you know? Not-Utah is recruited to the FBI for some reason, then disappears for literally two weeks and then doesn’t get fired for some reason. He quickly gets accepted into the extreme sports criminal group (although they always know he is undercover) who are committing environmentally based crimes (until they forget about this half way through the movie) and comes to question his loyalty to the FBI and his new friend Bodhi… but not really. In the end a lot of extreme sport happens and the movie mercifully finishes with no crimes solved or criminals arrested. Nice work, Not-Utah.

Replacing Keanu Reeves as Utah/Not-Utah is the charisma-free Luke Bracey, who manages to be so vacant he makes Keanu’s original performance look like Geilgud’s Hamlet. British hard man Ray Winstone looks justifiably annoyed to have all his scenes shot on a rainy dock while Not-Utah is off surfing, rock-climbing or motorbiking away from an avalanche and displays none of the manic charm of Gary Busey.

It is somewhat apt that director Ericson Core sounds like a new mobile phone, as this is a movie for people with short attention spans. The moment it seems like any plot developments might be coming we cut to another extreme sports scene, competently filmed but lacking in any kind of narrative momentum. There is also a hilarious level of bro-talk, with multiple variations of the thought "I see my line, and it’s beautiful". For those unfamiliar with extreme sportsing, your line is the path that you take up (or down) a mountain.

If you’re one of those people who drinks Red Bull for breakfast and thinks that plots in movies are overrated, Point Break might be for you. But probably not.

The Verdict

In this era of corporate movie making, remakes and sequels are an easy choice for studios. Sometimes, this can be a good thing, with obscure classics modernised and introduced to a new audience. Films like The Departed, True Grit and Cape Fear show what can be achieved with a talented director with a strong vision. On first viewing The Magnificent Seven doesn’t quite achieve the classic status of these remakes, but it isn’t too far behind.

At the other end of the scale you’ve got movies like Psycho, Clash of the Titans and Arthur, remakes so bad that they make you long for the original, or at least a quick nuclear war to take away the pain. It would be slightly unfair to lump Point Break in with these travesties, but we live in an unfair world, so that’s what I’m going to do.

The Magnificent Seven — 8/10

Point Break — 2/10

Like what you read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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