Movie reviews: The Magnificent Seven, The Girl with All the Gifts, Little Men

The Magnificent Seven 4/5
Movie reviews: The Magnificent Seven, The Girl with All the Gifts, Little Men

A REMAKE of the 1960 classic, which was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), The Magnificent Seven (12A) stars Denzel Washington as Chisholm, a bounty hunter commissioned by Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett) to defend the beleaguered town of Rose Creek against the private army of robber-baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).

Assembling a team of crack killers — among them Faraday (Chris Pratt), Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) — Chisholm bunkers in at Rose Creek and prepares to defy impossible odds.

Director Antoine Fuqua tells a slightly different story from the 1960 original: there’s a very strong religious subtext to proceedings, a contemporary resonance in the way the battle-lines are drawn between unfettered capitalism and its hapless victims, and the multicultural make-up of the Seven — our heroes include a black man, a Mexican and an Indian — is emphasised on a number of occasions.

For the most part, however, the movie is a throwback to the classic Western with its dastardly villains and uncomplicated heroes (Washington, mischievously, wears a black hat throughout), as the story stays as true to the genre’s time-honoured tropes as you can get without tipping over into parody.

Denzel Washington provides the required gravitas to communicate the film’s seriousness of intent as he takes on a suicide mission in search of redemption, with Chris Pratt providing the comic relief as a dim but charming devil-may-care gunslinger.

The result is an unashamedly old-fashioned and hugely entertaining Western which may — with a remake of High Noon in the works — point towards something of a renaissance of the classic Western movie.

Set in the near future, The Girl with All the Gifts (15A) opens with schoolgirl prodigy Melanie (Sennia Nanua) strapped into a wheelchair — as are all of her classmates — while they’re being taught by Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton).

The children, we quickly learn, are restrained because they’re ‘hungries’ — the world beyond the army compound where they’re being held has been devastated by a fungal infection that turns people into ravenous zombies.

When the compound is overrun, Melanie, Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) and Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) flee for their lives, hoping to find a sanctuary where an antidote can be distilled from Melanie’s flesh and blood.

Adapted by Mike Carey from his own young adult bestselling novel, and directed by Colm McCarthy, The Girl with All the Gifts offers a neat blend of horror-action set-pieces wrapped around a thoughtful exploration of how the older generation exploits the generation following on.

It looks superb too, the ‘hungries’ a numberless horde of leprous cannibals populating a post-apocalyptic world fabulously reimagined as an overgrown, deserted industrial landscape.

The characters, it’s true, are little more than ciphers, although Paddy Considine humanises his order-barking Sergeant Parks with gruff black humour, but the story is strong enough to carry us along as the group’s attempt to find fellow healthy humans grows increasingly fraught.

Little Men (PG) begins with teenager Jake (Theo Taplitz) moving to Brooklyn with his parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle).

Initially worried about fitting in, Jake quickly strikes up a firm friendship with Tony (Michael Barbieri), but their bond is tested when Brian is forced into a dispute with Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina García), over the lease on her dressmaking shop.

Co-written and directed by Ira Sachs, Little Men is a drama in a minor key that revolves around tiny tragedies, but Sachs has for his model ostensibly low-key stories that strike a universal chord — Brian, for example, a jobbing stage actor, is preparing for his role in Chekov’s The Seagull.

Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are superb at evoking the pre-teen years, when every decision is potentially life-changing, and every minute change in your routine can feel seismic.

There are strong performances across the board, with Greg Kinnear in his best form for years as the conflicted nice guy trying to the right thing, and Paulina García heartbreakingly poignant as a defiant woman who is nonetheless helpless to prevent her future slipping away.

The film belongs to Michael Barbieri, however, who puts in a barnstorming performance as the endearingly brash, fast-talking Tony, a boy whose confidence in his talent is by no means misplaced, but whose faith in natural justice, the audience understands, will be sorely tested in the years to come.

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