Synopsis – Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.
My Take – Remakes rarely turn out to be good. Mainly because the directors behind the remake, struggle to find the right balance between paying ode to the original film while trying to do their own thing. Here, the film is a remake of a 1960 film of the same name by John Sturges which itself was the remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai (1954). Both this films were a part of the first wave of ‘team up’ and ensemble films. This particular iteration of the classic tale comes out in a time where cinema is flooded by team ups of all sorts, with superhero films taking over. So it’s certainly not as special to see a random group come together for one specific cause, but make no mistake, this film is loads of fun. Here, director Antoine Fuqua, known usually for more serious action films, honors the 1960 original film by adapting the same basic storyline, but along the way he adds some refreshingly new aspects to the story, which distinguish it from the original, and make it memorable in its own right. Fuqua has all the elements at play here – a good cast, an easy to follow plot, tightly directed and shot action sequences with enough humor thrown in to make this film’s 143 run time quite enjoyable, if not magnificent.
The story follows the recently widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), who offers all of the town’s money to a bounty hunter called Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) to fight mining mogul Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who has been terrorizing the California town of Rose Creek, by offering pittance to buy out local farmers to hand over their lands and kills anyone who so much as looks at him sideways. The money gets Chisholm’s attention, but he is also moved by compassion for the victims of Bogue’s greed and violence – and has a very personal reason for agreeing to help. For this job, Chisholm gathers six more men: local gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), skilled tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), feared sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), lethal knife-fighter Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Before the inevitable showdown with Bogue himself, the Seven have a number of obstacles to overcome. First, these very different men have to learn to get along – or, at least, trust each other. Then, they have to get past the mistrust and fear of the locals – who are far from united about how to deal with their situation. There’s also the issue of the defence of the town requiring more than seven men, so these hired guns set out to train the townsfolk to fight – or, at least, try to. Of course, when Bogue hears about all this, he’s going to counter with a small army of his own, which is going to require resourcefulness and strategy on the part of the defenders of Rose Creek. The first half of this film is all about getting to know the “7” as they get together. Fuqua, rightfully, takes his time with this as each one of the “7” has their own personality and quirk. This deliberate pacing pays off in the action scenes of the film. I found myself rooting for these guys and waited for each one to pull out their peculiar skill to help advance things along. The film establishes its setting in perfect fashion, thrusting us into a heated town meeting. Then suddenly, the villain enters, his menacing footsteps thump and creak on the wood floor, disagreement ensues, and suddenly, a shot splits the air. Such a startling sound, that you never really get used to, despite the amount of lead that flies here. The Western atmosphere is perfectly recreated and though it is that much more real, due to improved technology, it feels familiar in a way. Strains, variations, and melodic teases of Elmer Bernstein‘s famous score riddle the film and keep the mood adventurous. The obvious dominant component of the film, its action scenes are epic, and gripping. There are of course plenty of scenes that any western worth its salt is simply required to feature. Several Mexican standoffs, so delightfully stereotypical, as well as quite a few things that are new, or have not been seen for a while. A duel between two Comanches, a fighting force seeking shelter from the mighty Gatling gun, and a cowboy lighting dynamite with a cigarette as he lays dying all come to mind.
I could go on for much longer about how ridiculously cool this film’s action sequences are, but I’ll let you see for yourself. Every tenet of the genre can be seen here and a gleeful smile crept up on my face as one shot will floor a bad guy and yet another one drops down from the roof. My heart will whimsically shout out a yeah when yet another faceless slimeball gets flung down from his horse. The plot, though anything but unfamiliar is a moving and epic tale about unity, loyalty, and grit. One of my favorite scenes in the film features Jack Horne, the tracker, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, (who like the rest of this all star cast is just downright amazing in a role that fits like a glove) shot by an enemy arrow. He falters, but stares at the enemy and rises. He takes a step forward, and is stopped again, a second shaft protruding from his chest. He continues his advance toward the enemy until he can no longer, dying with his dignity intact. Fuqua also changes the characterization of many of the characters (in particular Vincent D’Onofrio‘s character, who I guarantee is like nothing you have ever seen before), edits the plot slightly (this time the Seven are hired by a woman seeking revenge for the death of her husband), and also mixes up the ethnicities of the characters (the original was simply seven Americans saving feeble Mexicans from other Americans, whereas this time we have a much more diverse Seven, along with the feeble Mexican aspect being scrapped). Yet at the same time this film greatly feels like the original, whether that is because it is setup in the same period, with the same story, or perhaps it is because of the little aspects and references, like how they play the original soundtrack during the credits. But whatever it is, it works. But despite all the action, the story is still just a little too familiar, in simple terms, it’s more or less the same as the 1960 classic. There are a fair few clichés and predictable twists/deaths that have little effect on you, but Wenk and Pizzolatto‘s script does add a little more humor than before to keep it interesting while the guns are holstered. Fuqua has not only assembled a very talented cast, but also a very diverse group of actors, which is definitely welcome. Denzel Washington continues to command the screen, has now become a new action hero. He plays a righteous bounty hunter who sets out to help a group of villagers out of sympathy. Though we can always expect Denzel to be likable and badass, he still manages to bring something different in all the characters he plays. This is what makes him different from regular action stars; who usually play one character with different names and pitted in different situations. Denzel‘s performance is matched by a stellar supporting cast such as Vincent D’Onofrio, Ethan Hawke, and Peter Sarsgaard. D’Onofrio plays an eccentric bible talking tracker. His funny accent does not distract but serves to make his character more interesting. Hawke playing the haunted shooter who is afraid to kill brings complexity to the role. Playing vulnerable heroes is Hawke‘s expertise and he effortlessly portrays a hero who is troubled by his deadly skills. Peter Sarsgaard definitely gives you a villain to hate from the film’s opening scene in the mining baron Barton Bogue. He’s got some great monologues and Sarsgaard plays him with a sort of laconic, self- assured power cum evil that makes you want him dead as badly as the town and the Seven (some of which have personal scores with Bogue). Chris Pratt‘s character is very similar to his turn in Jurassic World, and like that film, it took me a while to get on board but once the crew formed, his dynamic with them and witty one-liners won me over. Haley Bennett, Byung-hun Lee, Luke Grimes and newcomers Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier also give solid performances. On the whole, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ is an imperfect yet a massively entertaining, easily digestible modern western that works mainly due to its likable cast and excellent action set pieces.
Directed – Antoine Fuqua
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 143 minutes