by Alan Yudman
The legendary tale of Seven Samurai who were recruited to protect a town from a ruthless evil doer has been told on film twice before. Akira Kurosawa’s classic version which featured actual Samurai. Then the 1960 John Sturges version, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Now Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington have teamed up to remake the reimagined western. It is mostly successful, but no nearly as good as the 1960 version.
In this one, a mining baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has taken over a town, offered a mere pittance for the land of the famers and ranchers who live there and basically killed anyone who decided to oppose him (sorry for the brief appearance Matt Bomer). So a widow (Haley Bennett) of one of the unfortunate meets up with Washington’s “Chisolm” and strikes a bargain, everything the town has if he will run Bogue outta town. Chisolm starts recruiting his men and winds up with 7 going against a small army. I will say, it is quite the diverse cast of characters. Chisolm is of course black. There is also an Indian (Martin Sensmeier), a Mexican (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and an Asian (Byung-hun Lee). Apparently the most progressive vigilantes in the old west. The remaining 3 are a roguish gambler (Chris Pratt), a mountain man/bounty hunter (Vincent D’Onofrio) and a former Confederate soldier (Ethan Hawke).
If you have seen the 1960 version, it follows the broad strokes of the plot pretty faithfully. They win, they get beat, then prevail. That’s not a spoiler. Nothing is a spoiler. This is not groundbreaking (other than the casting) in any way. Matter of fact it is a fairly wrote Western. The gun play is well shot and well thought out. The screenplay is ok, some of the dialogue eye rolling. Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk are the writers. Wenk is an action movie veteran (The Equalizer and The Expendables most recently). Pizzolatto is the creator and writer behind True Detective. Maybe the first season of that HBO show was the anomaly and this is really who he is. There are parts that are so slow they are snooze inducing. Most of the payoff lines belong to Pratt who is playing some version of his Peter Quill character from Guardians of the Galaxy. Not a stretch, but he does it so well it’s hard not to like him. Washington is fine. Well, better than fine. He is so effortless and solid it is easy to forget how skilled he actually is.
Oh and one more minor creative quibble. Fuqua does use the iconic Elmer Bernstein theme, but not until the end. I spent part of the movie wishing I’d heard it sooner.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a perfectly fine film. But maybe putting it in a modern setting would have been a better idea. The diversity of the casting would have made a lot more sense if it was set in an inner city. It is far from Magnificent, not nearly as good as the 1960 classic but worth a rental.