What were they thinking? Who would dare do a remake of the classic western “The Magnificent Seven?” Well, after a recent re-watching of that 1960 film, it’s — please don’t kill the critic — not that much of a classic. There’s a strong story (much of it taken directly from “Seven Samurai,” which that Western is a remake of), and memorable performances, notably by Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. But the film is kind of clunky, and is at times a chore to get through.
So, yeah, it’s prime remake material, and action director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” the underrated “Olympus Has Fallen”) was a good choice to do it. While Denzel Washington (Oscar-winner for Fuqua’s “Training Day”) is the perfect guy to play Chisolm, the “man in black” equivalent of Brynner’s Chris Adams in the last version, this “Magnificent Seven” is much more of an ensemble piece. Denzel might have the most screen time, with Chris Pratt as Faraday, combining pieces of the Steve McQueen and James Coburn characters from the first “Mag 7” having almost equal time, but the other five guys of the title’s septet also have plenty of background and dialogue (well, expect for the one that hardly speaks).
The story is still about a small town that’s under the stranglehold of a very bad guy. In this case, it’s a little farmer-filled place called Rose Creek. The time is 1879, and rich, vicious, smarmy, and dead-eyed robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) intends not only to rip everything worth mining out of the ground in the area, he’s also going to own the town and everyone in it, shooting down anybody who speaks against him, or letting his army of goons do the dirty work.
When Bogue leaves town, with a promise to return soon and take what he says is his, the recently widowed — by Bogue — Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) takes notice of the stranger who’s just ridden in, the warrant officer (bounty hunter works, too) named Chisolm. She sees that he’s a tough, cool-headed hombre who’s good with a gun, and builds up the nerve to ask him for protection against Bogue, willing to give him whatever money the townsfolk can scrape up. It’s not till Chisolm notices and chats up another new face in town, the rapscallion gunslinger Faraday, that he says yes to the offer, then starts searching for more men — five more, it turns out, and quite an ethnic mix of borderline bad guys they are — to sign up and save the town from Bogue and his much larger gang.
This quickly turns into a big, full-bodied Western, with the vast landscape of Arizona coming across as another major character. As each new member of the Seven — some are old friends, others are new recruits — is brought aboard, bits and pieces of their character, behavior, and singular talent — whether with a gun or a knife or a bow — is revealed. Some time is spent in presenting a long, involved bonding process between most of them. But it’s made clear that they have a lot of work ahead of them, including training the town’s farmers in the art of shooting guns and, due to them being so outnumbered by the bad guys, being creative in manners of protecting their town. Think booby traps.
Fuqua infuses the film with tense, quiet scenes that are followed, when the time is right, by sequences featuring thundering hooves and booming music. When the confrontations finally begin, staredowns and standoffs lead to a lengthy blowout of guns, blades, and arrows. And that’s only when our heroes go up against Bogue’s security forces.
As in “Seven Samurai” (and to a lesser extent, the first “Magnificent Seven”), the lengthy real battle is saved for the film’s climax, when the action goes into relentless mode, and all hell breaks loose and — small spoiler — there aren’t seven Magnificent people left standing. A nice touch is that the feisty Emma is as dangerous as any of the men she hired. Too bad no one had the sense to call this “The Magnificent Eight.”
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
“The Magnificent Seven”
Written by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto; directed by Antoine Fuqua
With Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Haley Bennett