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Snowden

The Magnificent Seven

September 22, 2016

Snowden (**) R

‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ It’s an old adage to be sure, but never did those words ring stronger in my mind than after I exited the screening the other night for Oliver Stone’s latest film, Snowden. Of all the things that the world of cinema has lost during the last twenty odd years, I think one of the things that I miss the most is the cinematic voice of the once great filmmaker, Oliver Stone. There was roughly a ten-year period when Stone was churning out an incredible body of work in film that resulted in such time-honored masterpieces as JFK, Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon. It was a time I thought would never end.

It astounds me to think of how naïve I must have been in my late teens and early twenties to believe that level of filmmaking would continue on unabated. With Snowden I have to say that, like many other things, those days are gone and we’ll never see what could truly be classified as an ‘Oliver Stone film.’ That saddens me.

Snowden is just another in a long line of films that Stone has ground out during the last twenty years that bear little to none of his once trademark subversive imprint.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden

With the exception of the 2008 film W., which I found to be a return to form Stone, there’s nothing in his filmography during those years that will bear revisiting. The films that the veteran filmmaker made from roughly 1985-1995 were filled with a sense of urgency and passion that’s sorely lacking in his output during the intervening years and I would lump Snowden in that camp.   Snowden, on the surface, looks like a film tailor made to Stone’s unique sensibilities. The story of one of the most notorious leakers of classified documents since the days of Daniel Ellsberg and the publishing of The Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s is a multilayered tale that the Oliver Stone from twenty years ago would have knocked out of the park. Unfortunately the film has none of the sense of urgency and style that defined the director’s early work. It’s almost as if he’s sleepwalking through the whole endeavor and the film looks as if it would have been more at home on a cable channel along the lines of HBO.  

The film is set up in a flashback structure as Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, doing the best he can with what little he has to work with) is preparing to famously leak the CIA documents that would make him a wanted man. The film is so predictably structured that you can almost set a stop watch as to when we’ll see a snippet of his time serving in the military or a scene between Snowden and his girlfriend (Shailene Woodley, in a thankless role).

I guess the worst thing you can say about Snowden is that it’s just a plodding affair that deserves better treatment. Considering the subject matter and the filmmaker involved these are words that I really wasn’t expecting to have to write when reviewing this film. 

The Magnificent Seven (**) PG-13

On paper the prospect of remaking the beloved classic western The Magnificent Seven must have seemed like a can’t miss proposition. Especially when it’s a project that reunites director Antoine Fuqua with two of the stars (Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke) of his Academy Award winning film Training Day. It would be nice to say that lightning strikes again for Fuqua and company but in the case of The Magnificent Seven that’s just a pipe dream. The film is an overlong slog that takes much too long to reach its destination, overstaying its welcome by at least a half hour. It will certainly not erase fond memories of the original Magnificent Seven or The Seven Samurai, the classic Japanese film from which the source material is derived.

It’s amazing that such a simple setup takes so long to get going and seems to literally take years. There’s simply no reason why we need an hour of screen time to introduce us to the seven diverse characters that make up the film’s title, most of whom are silly stereotypes that would have felt old hat twenty years ago. For example, there’s the Asian (Byung-hun Lee) who kills by throwing things; the mentally unstable older dude (Vincent D’Onofrio); the brooding Native American (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); the battle scarred character suffering from PTSD (Hawke) and the alcoholic Irishman (Chris Pratt), etc.

Then there’s the leader of the pack, Sam Chisholm (Washington), the strong and silent type who’s all business. Unfortunately, the character, as written, gives Washington little to no chance to show off the considerable charisma that’s made him a box office draw for many decades. In other words, any actor probably could have filled those shoes and no one would have noticed.

Scene from The Magnificent Seven

Peter Saarsgard is the villain of the piece who goes by the moniker of Bartholomew Bogue. He and his henchmen terrorize a town and burn up a church in the film’s arresting opening sequence. Chisholm is put into service to assemble a team who will beat Bogue and his goons at their game. The climatic battle, of course, is saved for the final half hour but by that time interest wanes due to the plodding opening hour leading up to the big battle. At least the film does end with a bang, both literally and figuratively and we get treated to the iconic theme song, albeit over the closing credits.

The Magnificent Seven may please less discriminating fans of the original 1960 film but that’s about it. The beauty of that original film was that it had memorable characters to keep it flowing when the action was at bay. Unfortunately, this is a claim that can’t be made for what is yet another disappointing remake.

Snowden is playing all around the area. The Magnificent Seven will open in Lincolnton, Statesville and Morganton on Thursday, and at other area theaters.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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