Sunday, October 02, 2016
The Magnificent Seven/Snowden
The fact that the new remake of The Magnificent Seven takes on capitalism so squarely is either the most or least surprising thing about it. Mining baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, working hard to underplay menace) wants the residents of a small town called Rose Creek to pack up and sell out in order to expand his operations. The Rose Creek church is burned in the opening scene, a twist that Paul Thomas Anderson probably cut from an early draft of There Will Be Blood. Bogue has bought off local law enforcement and doesn't have a problem flaunting his control, so it's up to young widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to look elsewhere for some help. Emma convinces an itinerant peace officer named Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) to sign on to defend Rose Creek, and the scruffy team that Chisholm assembles soon arrives to train reluctant locals to defend themselves. Besides familiar faces Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D'Onofrio there are also Byung-hun Lee (deadly with a knife), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (an outlaw gunfighter), and Martin Sensmeier (a Native American unwelcome in his tribe) to round out the ensemble and make the cast of The Magnificent Seven more diverse than some European soccer teams.
I wish all the actors had been given some room to flesh out their characters. Washington doesn't have much to work with but his charisma and some revenge motivation that's shoehorned into the script, and Pratt remains charming and unruffled throughout. (Hawke and D'Onofrio make something out their roles on pure personality.) Fuqua and co-writer Nic Pizzolatto also miss a chance to have Bennett's character interrogate the bonds that tie these men together, but that's probably too much to expect from the man who created True Detective. The film builds to a battle scene involving dynamite, a Gatling gun, and children hiding in a basement. The sequence is surprisingly long but it doesn't drag thanks to the time Fuqua has taken to establish the geography. And what of Bogue? The confrontation between Bogue and Chisholm is wisely cut short; having Chisholm act purely out of a desire for revenge would have turned the film sour. The Magnificent Seven is an efficient and skillfully made entertainment that is surprisingly lacking in soul. It's the kind of film that someone thought would look awfully good on a balance sheet.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is very good in the title role of Oliver Stone's Snowden as the NSA coder turned world's most famous whistleblower. Stone's film sees Snowden as a hero, someone whose revelations began a process of changing the way that people relate to their government. Whether one agrees with that opinion or not, the film Stone has made is less about metadata and privacy than about Edward Snowden the man. Snowden, who joined the CIA with only a GED, is presented as an eager but naive student who soon demonstrates his abilities to Agency superiors played by Rhys Ifans and Nicolas Cage. In the film's telling Snowden receives various postings around the world while working for the CIA, NSA, and assorted contractors. At each stop Snowden's faith in the government is soured by revelations about surveillance and data collection while at the same time his relationship with his girlfriend (Shailene Woodley) hangs in the balance. Gordon-Levitt and Woodley craft a lived-in portrait of a relationship under stress, but Snowden the movie has more on its hands than it knows what do with. The film is a restatement - in the broadest possible terms - of Snowden's arguments about what might happen if government surveillance goes unchecked. Stone doesn't explore how we got here; the relationship between the government and telecom companies is unexamined as are the the uses and possible misuses of the collected data. It also isn't clear what makes Snowden a rising star in government circles except that he's fast. There will no doubt be another film about Edward Snowden, and the I hope the next one does a better job putting Snowden's actions in relief against the complicated world.