Hollywood doesn’t like Westerns. They keep trying to make them into something else. If a traditional Western is a success, like Unforgiven, critics tag it as an anti-western. The Chicago Tribune said of Unforgiven, “This dark, melancholic film is a reminder -- never more necessary than now -- of what the American cinema is capable of, in the way of expressing a mature, morally complex and challenging view of the world.” As if a Western never plumbed the depths of depravity before.
Last night my wife and I went to see The Magnificent Seven, the remake. It’s a good movie. I thought the climatic gun battle was over the top, but that’s what audiences expect nowadays. Also the storyline was more implausible than the original. A roving band of bandits in the age of Poncho Villa raiding villages for food is far more believable than a mine owner killing random farmers to acquire land that hasn’t proved to be lodes of precious metal. But, hey, this is entertainment. Suspension of belief is de rigor.
An NPR review said of the movie, “it's not a revisionist western. Nor is it an anti-western. It's a western.” The reviewer, Chris Klimek, did not necessarily mean that as a compliment. I say, thank goodness. It’s about time Hollywood got back to good storytelling. Modern Hollywood often gets itself wrapped up messaging. Storytelling is an art that requires a meaningful plot, engaging characters, proper pacing, and craftsmanship. When they made the The Magnificent Seven, they set out to make an entertaining film, not a statement. Great stories can make statements, but they must be subtle enough to not jar the reader/viewer out of the story. Philip Pullman once said, “Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” The Magnificent Seven did include a message about inclusiveness, but never did that theme interrupt the flow of the story.
I liked the movie, and my wife liked it as well. The film did $41.4 million on its opening weekend, which bodes well that box office receipts will be high enough to encourage more of the same.