September 9, 2016

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL Day 1 Capsule Reviews: “The Magnificent 7″” & “Free Fire”


THE MAGNIFICENT 7 (Village Roadshow/MGM/Columbia/Sony – Sept 23):  Cinema survived in 1960 when Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece The Seven Samurai was transformed into an American western, and it will survive this new adequate but uninspired remake of the remake.  Despite a script co-credited to True Detective‘s Nik Pizzolatto (with Richard Wenk), and a promising match-up of cast members Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ethan Hawke and (as the villain) Peter Sarsgard, there’s nothing here beyond cliches and tropes, inferior not only to the previous versions of the story but to many of their imitators.  The actors don’t seem to be trying too hard either–Pratt, in particular, needs to add some shadings to his next post-Guardians of the Galaxy lovable rascal if he doesn’t want to become the new Dean Martin.  When the big confrontation between our septet and Sarsgard’s baddies finally arrives 90 minutes in, director Antoine Fuqua delivers plenty of boom-boom, and the overall result is certainly better than the last Fuqua/Washington collaboration The Equalizer, but this is yet another disposable and forgettable piece of re-used Hollywood IP.

FREE FIRE (A24 – opening date TBD):  The writer/director Ben Wheatley (his writing partner is Amy Jump) is a film festival favorite who constantly seems to be a project away from a commercial breakthrough, because of his liking for established genres and strong violence.  It hasn’t happened yet, though, and Free Fire probably won’t change that in a big way, although it does have a more accessible sense of humor than his other work.  Despite the imprimatur of Martin Scorsese’s name as an executive producer, clearly Free Fire‘s chief influence was Reservoir Dogs, as it tells the story of a small-time crime (the sale of illegal arms by some Boston gangsters to the IRA in the 1970s) that goes all kind of wrong, set almost entirely in one location and during a compressed period of time.  The action and quips are nearly non-stop, with a pleasing cast that includes everyone from Brie Larson to Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy to Sharlito Copley.  Wheatley’s work is some kind of a logistical tour de force, as he manages to make it clear at all times where each of the characters is within the abandoned warehouse of their stand-off, as well as who’s firing the hundreds of bullets that are going off and where they’re all landing.  (Wheatley and Jump also serve as co-editors.)  It may be, though, that Free Fire is too much of a piece with Wheatley’s last film High-Rise, a sci-fi allegory that also took place in a single place and that also viewed humanity as a race of buffoonish savages.  That concept restricts the film’s possibilities, so that none of the characters ever get developed and the plot remains skeletal.  While Free Fire might have made for a classic hour of television, there’s not enough to sustain it for 90 minutes, and it ends up becoming repetitive and even predictable.  Yet again, though, he’s clearly a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."