The Magnificent Seven
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Written by: Richard Wenk & Nic Pizzolatto based on the screenplay by Akira Kurosawa & Shinobu Hashimoto & Hideo Oguni.
Starring: Denzel Washington (Chisolm), Chris Pratt (Josh Faraday), Ethan Hawke (Goodnight Robicheaux), Vincent D'Onofrio (Jack Horne), Byung-hun Lee (Billy Rocks), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Vasquez), Martin Sensmeier (Red Harvest), Haley Bennett (Emma Cullen), Peter Sarsgaard (Bartholomew Bogue), Luke Grimes (Teddy Q), Matt Bomer (Matthew Cullen), Jonathan Joss (Denali), Cam Gigandet (McCann), Emil Beheshti (Maxwell), Mark Ashworth (Preacher).
I don’t think one can argue that each version of The Magnificent Seven has gotten worse the one before it. Akira Kurosawa’s epic Seven Samurai (1954) is one of the greatest films ever made after all, and although John Sturges’ 1960 remake, moving the action from feudal Japan to the American West is nowhere near as good, it’s still a hell of an entertaining Western, and does honor at least part of Kurosawa’s masterpiece – as both films are about a dying way of life, whether it’s seven samurai or seven gunslingers, defending a town of humble farmers from people who want to steal their land, these men know their time is over, and it’s time to make way for a future that does not need them. You’re not particularly wrong to think that we really didn’t need Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven in 2016 – and yet I have to admit that I had a good time watching the film. Fuqua has always been skilled at directing action – and he gets to do more than his share of set pieces here – that thankfully do not involve shaky cameras and rapid fire editing. He has cast the film well, if rather predictably, with movie stars doing the type of roles that made them stars to begin with. The film doesn’t really try to do anything all that new here – although it is great to see a cast in a movie this size be this diverse, and perhaps in the age of Trump, the film may resonate a little more as it is, after all, but this ragtag group of mismatched gunslingers teaming up to take down a man who equates capitalism with God – but I think that’s rather by accident. I’m not going to argue that the film is original or vital or brilliant – but I will argue that it’s really, really entertaining – and for those of us who would love to see more Westerns on the big screen, a site for sore eyes.
The story is pretty straight forward – the evil robber baron Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) wants the small town of Rose Creek to himself – there’s a mine, so there’s money – and he will do anything to get it. He offers to buy everyone’s land – for much less than its worth – and will kill anyone who refuses, as the opening scene aptly demonstrates. He’s giving the town three weeks to decide – by then he’ll be back from Sacramento, and expects to get what he wants. One widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) decides that she’s going to find some men to help the poor farmers defend their town. She meets Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) in a nearby town when he guns down quite a few men – legally of course. Once she has him on board, he brings the rest – drunken Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooting Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), the Asian good with knives, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), the former Indian scalper Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), the Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and the Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeir). They storm the town, and send Bogue a message by taking care of his men. They know he’ll be there within a week – and bring an army with them. They need to prepare.
Fuqua has cast the movie well, if more than a little bit predictably. I love Denzel in this movie – riding into town like he’s John Wayne – the calm exterior of a killer with justice on his side, and vengeance on his mind. It’s a role that Denzel could do in his sleep – but he’s a movie star because he doesn’t – and if you cannot enjoy him in this mode, than I feel sorry for you. Pratt gets to be goofy funny – and he does that well. Hawke is fine, although perhaps I expected a little more from him, Korean star Byung-hun Lee continues to make an impression trying to break into Hollywood – yet still not finding a role as good as I Saw the Devil. The film doesn’t really give Garcia-Rulfo or Sensmeier much to do – with a cast this big, a few of them are going to fade into the background, and that’s their role. Best of all of the seven is Vincent D’Onofrio, who shows up in the film looking like Orson Welles’ Falstaff, but speaking with a weirdly pinched, slightly high-pitched voice. I have a feeling that D’Onofrio like to amuse himself in roles like this – that could easily be forgettable, by deciding to make his work as strange as possible. It works – here, at least. Sarsgaard is appropriately vile as Bogue – but a subdued vile, not a cackling one, and that helps.
This is not a movie for people who don’t want to see gunfights. The film opens with a massacre, moves onto a quick gunfight in a bar, and then the back half of the film is pretty much two big gunfights, with a little training montage in between. Fuqua has been doing gunfights his entire career – but rarely has been this good at them. The two extended one in the back part of the film in particular are expertly choreographed and exciting. Do they go on too long, with too many anonymous people being gunned down? Probably. Did I still have fun nearly every minute of them? Yes.
I’m not going to argue that the film is a masterwork by any means – you are better off watching either previous version other than this one. Yet, we just got out of a summer season in which what passed for action filmmaking was superheroes and flying CGI crap. Give me these seven, with their horses and six shooters any day over that.