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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (or how Kyle came to a greater understanding of Chris Pratt through crisis)

Picture the scene...

The title team, a group of oddly paired gunmen, has gathered to come defend the town of Rose Creek from the machinations of ruthless industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), a murderous businessman who in a grand statement in the film's prologue, mixes religious fervor with financial gain and plays like a sort of Old West Donald Trump figure in that moment. With the team finally assembled, a standoff occurs between these "magnificent" rogues and the thugs hired by the villain to keep watch on the town and his prospective growing empire.

Between them you get the typical tough guy posturing and threats of violence. Before the hail of gunfire begins, Chris Pratt's Josh Faraday says the following to one of the chief minions:

"And you'll be murdered....by the world's greatest..lover". 

He says it with this exact same inflection, and some level of pain on his face. The line is clearly supposed to be played for laughs, but Pratt's expression tells a different tale. One of an actor struggling with something that he knows isn't funny, but has to deliver it anyway. This micro-form of existential crisis stuck with me for far longer than I should admit.

For the next hour-plus, I was struck with questions. "Did Pratt and Antoine Fuqua ever have a discussion about the pacing of this line of dialogue?" "Did they both know it was terrible?" "Was this screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto's idea of humor? I know he's never a funny guy, so why did he attempt it here? Did anyone try to stop him?" "How did this make it through multiple drafts? Why didn't he co-writer Richard Wenk step in?" 

I envisioned an excited Chris Pratt, at the premiere of the film, his anticipation turning to dread as the scene he had long forgotten about in between his busy sci-fi filming schedule (Passengers and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2) was about to rear its ugly head. His hands tighten on the grips of his seat, and as the words are uttered out of the 22 ft tall projection of his own visage, a cold sweat breaks across his brow. He turns and looks at his wife, the comedic-actress Anna Farris, and gives her a look that could make a 1000 Starlord fans sick with worry. Perhaps he even mouthed a silent, "I'm sorry". 

No one else would know, except perhaps whoever was seated to Farris' left, perhaps Denzel Washington. Did he see this bit of non-verbal dialogue? Did he think that Farris just didn't like the movie? Did this irreparably damage his and Pratt's relationship? Speaking of relationships, did Farris lose respect for Pratt in that moment? Or did she feel a greater connection to him than ever before having recalled her own laugh-free involvement in the Key and Peele film, Keanu

The screening ruined and Pratt returned to their abode a broken man....a sad sack version of the actor, with puppy dog eyes, sitting on the couch, thinking of all the different types of lines he could have improvised. Fighting back angry tears his played all the possible scenarios in his mind, all the sorts of machismo he could have conjured, had he not been shackled to a dour dramatists' attempt at "being funny", and the director given him any freedom at all to stray from the script. The rage palpable in his fists, he chucked his copy of True Detective Season 1 (because why would you own Season 2?) into the garbage. It was a moral victory, and a small one at that, but the next time he saw Pizzolatto in town...perhaps at The Ivy on business lunch, he'd be sure to greet him in a sneering fashion, with the only thought in the back of his mind, "I got you back, asshole!".

He looked forward to the filming of Avengers: Infinity War, as he so desperately wanted to sit down with Robert Downey Jr and talk shit about Pizzolatto. He relished the thought of the snarky, and smooth like a bottle of Aqua Velva, Downey unraveling tales of how he "fixed Perry Mason" and did it in a way that the writer didn't even know it was happening. Pratt would sit rapt in attention at the thought of one of his peers utterly triumphing in this way, though he was instantly crippled with self-doubt once this scenario played out in his head: "I'll always be known as the replacement Marvel funny guy, the not-Tony Stark of these damn movies! And I'm doing them for the next decade???"

The crushing weight of the world collapsed onto his head, and he curled into a ball on the couch, with only Farris to comfort him or perhaps pity him, massaging his muscular shoulders. Chris Pratt was, in that moment, the world's loneliest man. Adored by millions, but unloved by the most important person in his life: himself.

In that moment, I became Chris Pratt. Would I be funnier? Would wealth and fame follow? Or was this a simple case of mind-meld to the point that Pratty (as I like to call him now) was experiencing my own thoughts and fears? Perhaps he woke up in the middle of the night worrying how he would write a review of this very film and then quickly turn back over with shrug: "movie review??". If he starts a blog in the next few weeks, now you'll know why.

After I woke from this daze incurred by less than 10 seconds of the film, I tried my best to enjoy the rest of The Magnificent Seven. It's solid. It hits basically all the same beats as the Kurosawa original (and brutally pales in comparison) but it's hard to screw up this basic formula. It makes some attempts at diversity in casting, though it's that surface level kind of thing where the Asian guy is really good at knives and the Native American can't speak fluent English until he suddenly can, and eats raw meat for ceremony at the drop of a hat.

But there's still some fun to be had, and it's quickly paced, so it doesn't feel like it ever overstays its welcome (which is a feat for a 2 hour movie). Washington, Sarsgaard, and D'Onofrio all look like they're having fun, Sarsgaard is especially hammy in a way that kept me attuned to the goings on. There's a bit of a character revelation towards the end that I think undermines a lot of what made the Kurosawa film so great, and defined its protagonists as purely good and mostly selfless, but up that point, if you need a cinematic escape, this will do the trick. Just don't buy into the hype that it's some kind of critique on Trump's America.

But really, I wish they transplanted this to another time period altogether, just to freshen things up a tad.

Oh, and it ends on a line that's much worse than the fever-dream inducing bit above. The word magnificent is definitely used.

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