*This review definitely contains some spoilers and explanations that may make no sense to someone who hasn’t seen the movie. If you want to watch “The Magnificent Seven” like I did with no previous knowledge of the film, I don’t suggest you read this before seeing it. If you’re curious about it and need some encouragement before seeing it, stick around.
I had very limited knowledge of “The Magnificent Seven” before I stepped into the theater. All I knew was that it was a Western movie and it starred Chris Pratt. That was it. When the first scene played through, and a church was torched and people were murdered by the antagonist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), I was a little taken-aback. The tone for the movie is already very serious, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.
After finishing the movie, I really stand by that last sentence. “The Magnificent Seven” is very serious, as most Westerns are (I’m assuming, I also have very limited knowledge of his genre so there’s a good chance I’m wrong). I doubt I could write a better synopsis than IMDB, so here’s their description of the movie:
“Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story in The Magnificent Seven. With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue, the desperate townspeople employ the protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns. As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.” (Not my own words, obviously, because I took this from IMDB).
It’s a pretty basic story of a “bad guy” taking over a small town, and the villagers enlisting the efforts of the “good guys” (loosely-applied term) to take their town back. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennet) and her friend Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) seek revenge for the murder of Emma’s husband (played by Matt Bomer, his death was pretty shocking because I expected him to last a little longer than the burning church from the opening scene). Bountyhunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is the first to accept Emma’s offer (because of a tragic past with Bartholomew that isn’t revealed until the very end). He soon recruits gambling addict and “world’s best lover” Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), the straight-shooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), the “bear in people’s clothes” Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), the knife-thrower Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), the Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and the rogue Native American warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
The first thing I usually notice about movies with large casts like this one is how diverse they are. I was impressed this movie seemed to have adequate representation, although I wish there were more female roles. Bennet is mostly onscreen as the only woman among a full-cast of men, who sometimes make jokes at her expense. Aside from the film’s lack of women, I appreciated how emotionally connected I got with each of the “magnificent” Seven. The directors invested as much time into Washington’s character as they did Pratt’s, and so on. With the exception of D’Onofrio and Sensmeier’s characters, I wanted each of the Seven to live through their final fight with Bogue.
After watching these characters grow and form a genuine friendship with each other as they rallied the town together during the final battle for Rose Creek against Bogue and his army, I was surprised so many of them were killed. Jack Horne is shot with multiple arrows by Bogue’s Native henchman Denali (a scene that reminded me of Boromir’s iconic death in the first “Lord of the Rings” movie), and Billy and Goodnight are obliterated from their sniper posts at the top of the (still-burnt) church steeple. The most memorable death, and definitely the most badass I’ve ever seen, was Faraday’s. After charging at Bogue’s men alone, Faraday is shot multiple times. His last act before dying is sticking a cigar in his mouth, which one of Bogue’s men lights. When a gun is turned on him, Faraday collapses face-down in the dirt, but he isn’t dead yet. He slowly rises, revealing a lit stick of dynamite in his hand. He smirks at the henchmen as the dynamite explodes, killing Faraday and his targets, but also destroying the automatic gun that killed so many of the villagers (and Billy and Goodnight). I was very emotional after this scene.
I was equally-surprised Chisolm wasn’t killed. In a movie where so many of the characters are killed, Chisolm is one of a few people who manages to see the death of Bogue (courtesy of Emma). By the end, Emma’s husband is avenged, Chisolm’s family (also killed by Bogue, won’t go into a lot of detail with this because it’s very sad) is avenged, and the four dead mercenaries are buried.
I can comfortably say that while I liked “The Magnificent Seven” more than I thought I would, I wouldn’t see it again. There was a lot of action, graphic content (blood, explosions, the whole nine-yards), and a little bit of misogyny (just a smidge). A comment Chisolm made to Emma before the final battle, as the Seven are preparing the town for Bogue’s attack, really stuck with me. When she asked where she would be posted, he told her to stay with the women and children. When she told him she could shoot, he told her that if women were going to be shooting with the rest of the Seven, they were as good as dead anyway. I understand that this movie is set in the West, and women weren’t seen as equals to men, but when you consider how surprisingly diverse the cast is, I don’t think it would be a stretch to include a woman in the group’s dynamic. After all, it’s Emma who rallies Chisolm, helps ready the town, and ultimately kills Bogue. She deserves more credit than she was given.
Another small, petty issue I had with the movie were the horses. I know none of them were really hurt during the explosions, but the scenes I found the most disturbing were the ones where horses were thrown into the air from dynamite or fell to the ground as they were pelted with bullets. I admit this is a very nit-picky problem to have, especially since it was necessary to have the horses subjected to the same violence the men faced.
On a more positive note, the movie did lighten up after the first scene. Chris Pratt’s character offered his typical humor, dropping some funny one-liners every now and then (as did some of the other characters). The small inclusions of humor helped balance the intensity of the other scenes, as gunfights were rampant and almost everyone dies in the end. If you’re a fan of Western films, you’ll love this one.
*This review may contain spoilers. If you have not seen “Snowden” and don’t want the surprise of the movie ruined for you, don’t read ahead (or do, but don’t blame me if the illusion is shattered when you do eventually see it, because you should).
A quick recap of the movie: “Snowden” follows the real life story of of Edward Snowden, the man who worked for the United States National Security Agency and released NSA records to the media. After discovering the NSA (in compliance with the Central Intelligence Agency) was performing the illegal wiretapping of millions of American citizens, Snowden made the decision to alert the media (from a small Hong Kong hotel room). As he awaits refugee status to avoid an extradition to the U.S. for [an unfair] trial, Snowden is trapped in Moscow when the U.S. Department of State puts a red flag on his passport. Snowden is still living in Moscow as the U.S. government tries to work with Russian authorities to have him sent back to the States for trial.
First, I cannot even begin to explain how ecstatic I was with the casting choice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden. He fit the role perfectly, and has a very strong dedication to the story. A month ago, Gordon-Levitt called out The Washington Post on Twitter (below or here) for refusing to support Snowden even after they shared the NSA information he provided (and won a Pulitzer Prize for it).
Other all-star cast members include Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Nicholas Cage (I was genuinely surprised to see him), and Melissa Leo.
There’s no arguing Snowden is a very controversial figure. “Snowden” aims to humanize him, providing the audience with Edward’s experiences and how they influenced him to eventually leak classified government projects. His love interest, Lindsay (played by Woodley), is one of the main reasons he makes the decision. Their strained relationship is a significant focus in “Snowden.” One scene shows Edward’s [warranted] paranoia after he learns his former-boss from the CIA is monitoring Lindsay’s e-mail, cell phone, and online presence. Other scenes show Edward placing bandages over his and Lindsay’s laptop cameras, and arguing with Lindsay over deleting her nude self-portraits. In the end, he wants to protect her (and every other American whose lives are being digitally invaded) from these breaches in personal privacy.
An overarching theme in the movie is whether Edward is a traitor or a hero. “Snowden” plays with both labels, using the plot to show him in both roles. Toward the end of the movie, when Edward is copying the NSA files onto his [very discrete] USB drive, he is secretive. Rushed. He is shown looking over his shoulder as he hurries to copy the last file, and it is implied that his actions are wrong. He is guilt-ridden and hunched over, the implications of his decision weighing on his shoulders. In this moment, we see Edward as a traitor. He is knowingly stealing classified documents from the NSA Hawaii base, risking the jobs of his colleagues (and possibly his own life). The audience sees him sneaking the USB past security in a rubix cube, coaxing one of the security guards (his friend) into testing out the cube to keep the drive from being discovered.
On the other hand, commentary from Snowden himself at the very end of the film places him in a different role. His motivations for releasing the documents weren’t sinister. He didn’t want to exploit or destroy the U.S.; he wanted the American people to hold their government (or him, he admitted, if they saw fit) accountable. I attribute this desire to release the documents to his relationship with Lindsay. In the beginning of the movie while they’re on a date, they walk through a crowd protesting Bush’s war in Iraq. Lindsay tells Edward she believes should hold their leaders accountable. People have the right to voice their concerns. By the end of “Snowden,” Edward finally understands what she was talking about with her “liberal” jargon.
In addition to his love for Lindsay, Snowden attributes his ultimate decision to the Nuremberg Trials. He questions where the line between following orders and committing a crime is drawn, and if he inadvertently crossed it when he created his surveillance projects for the CIA and NSA (the same projects they were using to spy on Americans). He also emphasized that he should be tried for his actions, but he wouldn’t receive a fair trial under the Espionage Act (hence his persistence in relocating to Latin America to avoid extradition to the U.S. from China).
“Snowden” isn’t a movie I would typically describe as action-packed. Edward wasn’t a super-spy or an assassin. He didn’t hold the President for ransom, or invade another country to gain intelligence. But that’s what made it so much better: the entire premise of “Snowden” is that he wasn’t any of those things. Edward was just a regular person. He was a regular person who made the decision to blow the whistle on one of the world’s superpowers, risking his life, relationships, and career. He threw everything away to leak these documents, and that’s (for lack of a better work) impressive.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, even with its lack of action-packed thrills and explosions (in the traditional sense). The movie was long, but worth every second. I left the theater not only believing that Snowden is a hero for his defiance against the government, but that he’s a complete badass. He had the audacity to question the agencies he worked for and their commitment to “security.”
After seeing (or reading about) Edward Snowden, what do you think? Is he a hero, or is he a traitor?
What we're watching.