Review of reviews: Film
The Magnificent Seven
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (PG-13)
A handful of gunmen defend a town under siege.
Consider this remake of a classic Western “a reminder of why the genre was so wildly popular in the first place,” said Bryan Bishop in TheVerge.com. As in John Sturges’ 1960 original—itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai—the plot, though tweaked, is simple: When an evil mining baron moves to violently seize a frontier town, the locals hire a motley, multi-ethnic gang of mercenaries to fight back. Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, and Chris Pratt lend the crew star power, and the “rough and tumble” fight scenes ensure that this Seven will play to the masses. But “a stultifying barrage of action set pieces” is no substitute for the original’s knockabout spirit and sneaky class consciousness, said Scott Tobias in GQ.com. Weighed down by a “glum seriousness,” the remake manages to be “the worst of both worlds: completely substancefree yet heavier than Vincent D’Onofrio’s beard.” Not to me, said David Ehrlich in IndieWire.com. If anything, the movie “leans too hard on levity,” playing up the stars’ chemistry at the expense of suspense. But in the end this Magnificent Seven tells a simple story, “and it gets the little things right”—including a blue-sky backdrop that mirrors its core optimism about America’s tomorrows.
Directed by Oliver Stone (R)
A disillusioned spy turns whistleblower.
You may think you know what to expect from an Oliver Stone biopic on Edward Snowden, said Ann Hornaday in The Washington Post. “Not so fast.” Though the JFK director probably couldn’t resist taking on a story about government spying, he restrains his showiest impulses here, delivering a “superbly crafted” drama that marks “a stirring return to form for one of our most gifted directors.” But as good as Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in the title role, the movie so wants Snowden to be a hero that it “scrubs him of his individuality,” said David Edelstein in New Yorkmagazine. It flashes back to show the former Army volunteer building a promising career in intelligence until his disillusionment inspires him to leak thousands of classified NSA documents to the press. But Stone allows no room for complications, such as the possibility that Snowden’s rebellion seriously compromised national security. Worse, Stone has inserted dramatic filler—like a subplot about Snowden’s relationship with his girlfriend—that “dulls the urgency of the film,” said Richard Lawson in VanityFair.com. As an audience-friendly version of a story told better in the documentary Citizenfour, Stone’s Snowden “sturdily does its part for the cause,” nothing more.
Directed by Julio Quintana (PG-13)
A grieving town finds a savior.
“Stark yet beautiful, urgent yet dreamlike,” this debut feature from a Terrence Malick acolyte proves to be a mind trip worth taking, said Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. In a coastal Puerto Rican village still grieving 10 years after a tsunami killed all the town’s children, a young man named Leo emerges as a potential redeemer. The “understated formal loveliness” of the film “helps offset its more heavy-handed allegorical inclinations,” said Nick Schager in Variety. Martin Sheen plays a priest unable to restore the villagers’ faith until Leo falls into the sea one night and miraculously returns to life after his inert body is pulled from the waves. As the resurrected Leo (Lucas Quintana) begins building a boat, the movie fixates more on biblical metaphors than on a grounded human drama, yet it succeeds as “a muted, moving tale of sorrow and faith.” Malick himself is one of the film’s producers, and the older director’s influence shows in the movie’s transcendental worldview and poetic visuals, said Simon Abrams in The Village Voice. Perhaps there’s a little too much Malick in The Vessel, “but it also feels like a major work by an exciting new talent.”