Somehow, Vincent D’Onofrio must have been aware that by the time his character shows up about a third of the way into The Magnificent Seven, the movie would have been such a long slog that only a performance of extreme lunacy could possibly energize it. And so D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne—one of the seven guns for hire who have signed on to protect a small mining town from a land-grabbing baron—bursts from a bush looking like Grizzly Adams, if Grizzly Adams had eaten Orson Welles for breakfast. (And he might have had Yukon Cornelius, from the stop-motion Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, for dessert.) The gray-bearded, big-bellied Horne promptly launches an axe into one unsavory character, stabs another, and then it gets really good: when he opens his mouth to speak, he offers a puberty-inflected squeak.
A remake of 1960’s excellent The Magnificent Seven (itself based on 1954’s truly magnificent Seven Samurai), this ensemble Western also features Chris Pratt, who could only look more out of place if he was standing between Bryce Dallas Howard and a velociraptor; Ethan Hawke, whose genteel Confederate vet delivers melodious Twainspeak; Peter Sarsgaard, who isn’t content to simply twirl his mustache as the robber baron, but proceeds to make his whole body quiver; and Haley Bennett, who brings a welcome feminine presence and a sense of serious commitment as a vengeful widow, despite being costumed as if she was a saloon prostitute.
At the head of this gang is Denzel Washington, whose long strides at least make for some elegant walks down main street. Washington wisely plays it low-key compared to his co-stars, at least until a showdown finale in which he gets to explore the struggle for righteousness that defines so many of his characters. In a church, no less.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, who guided Washington to an Oscar in Training Day, The Magnificent Seven could probably cut its significant running time by a decent amount if it didn’t painfully belabor every showdown it includes. If a single, drawn-out reaction shot from a spectator does the job, rest assured we’ll get three or four. This oddly drains the film of any sort of tension—the gunslingers are frequently staring each other down for so long that you could go refill your popcorn before any shots are fired.
Speaking of which, the endless climactic finale, in which the seven face off against Sarsgaard’s men, expends three movies’ worth of bullets even before they bring out the Gatling gun. “This is more than the second world war,” my 92-year-old grandfather noted during our showing. (And he was there, so he would know.) After a dozen or so men had been gunned down, he turned to me again and exclaimed, “They shot my hearing aid out!” After sitting through The Magnificent Seven, I think I now need one.