Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke Peter Sarsgaard and a whole cast of damn fine looking men
Written by: Rich Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto; based on the screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, language and more violence
Runtime 134 minutes
First, full disclosure: despite my love for westerns, I have never seen the original Magnificent Seven film. I will be hiding behind this heavy steel door.
The Magnificent Seven is one of those stories that is adaptable to almost any genre. What started out as one of the all time great samurai films (Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa), through its reimagining – as many of Kurosawa’s films were – to its classic western, the idea of seven ragtag heroes gathering together to ward off a great threat is a timeless one. How about Seven Samurai with insects? Bam, A Bug’s Life. Samurai in space? Boom, Battle Beyond the Stars. Heck, the new Justice League is going to borrow heavily from the original. Let’s get Seven Samurai in medieval times, or in the post-apocalypse; hell, a Seven Samurai romantic comedy. It could work!
With such a wide range of genres to play around, the need to head back to the well and remake the remake is a prime example of Hollywood’s unimagination. To be fair to Antoine Fuqua’s film, it remains a thrilling and entertaining piece of good vs evil. But we have to ask ourselves: why? The blood flows, the body count is absurdly high, the cast is extremely multiracial, the villain despicable and the heroes righteous and wonderful. It is a fine two hour diversion, yet ultimately fails to fully ride off into the sunset.
When Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, who doesn’t twirl his mustache simply because it is not long enough) comes into the town of Rose Creek, burns the church, kills half a dozen men and then says he’ll buy everyone’s land for $20 a head, the townsfolk are scared and angry. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), summoning the chutzpah to fight back, enlists the aide of wandering warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to bring the fight to Bogue. The man agrees, for reasons that are made apparent only near the end. Unfortunately, the town is facing down an army of hired thugs and while it does seem like Denzel could singlehandedly face down whatever storm is thrown at him, even he’ll need some help. About six more ought to do it.
The film is at its best during the recruitment phase. In it, we get snapshots of every man at his best; quickly telling us everything we need to know about each of them. To Fuqua’s and writer Nic Pizzolatto’s (True Detective) credit, each of the seven heroes are visually and emotionally distinctive. They’re a lot of fun to watch and you genuinely enjoy hanging out with them. Of the many characters introduced, the best is easily Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), the mountain man come down from the wild with a high pitched voice and surprisingly gentle demeanor. Except when he’s throwing an axe into someone. Chris Pratt as Faraday gets the second most screentime and true to his new superstar status, he’s wonderful. Even if he’s basically still playing Actual Western Hero Peter Quill.
The whole concept of The Magnificent Seven works because it deals in character archetypes and yes, stereotypes. The law man – Washington. The hot shot – Chris Pratt. The mountain man – D’Onofrio. The conflicted warrior – Ethan Hawke. The Asian knife master Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). The mercenary Vasquez, (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and the stoic, proud Native American Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). We learn enough to care, and some are afforded a little more backstory but this is a film ultimately unconcerned with the histories of very nearly everyone.
No, this is a movie about one thing and one thing only: shooting people. It is a bloody ode to our Western myths, where a small group of good guys with guns (and dynamite) can take down an army of bad guys with guns. Gone are the quick, mean and nasty fights of say, Unforgiven – here is cinematic glory in all its goriness. Lots and lots of men die here, and our seven heroes assume damn near superhuman status while doing so and would fit right alongside the Avengers during an alien invasion. Their shots always hit; one shot, one kill. The bad guys score some victories but it’ll take more than one bullet or one arrow to stop these seven. It actually becomes tiring after a certain point during the final, quite overdrawn battle and you want Fuqua to just get onto the ultimate showdown.
The Magnificent Seven is a classic western draped in modern clothing. It does not attempt to explore the deeper and darker themes of the American westward expansion nor does it offer up a nuanced villain, nor question the savagery of its heroes. What it does is give you is a two plus hour action spectacle that is sure to excite both western and action fans alike. The original Magnificent Seven is, by all accounts, incredible. So the question remains: with something so good, why remake it the exact same way? The answer is obviously ‘because Hollywood’.
But someone let me know when they do this story UNDERWATER.