In this chum bucket of nostalgia we’re all cinematically swimming in, the idea of something original making its way to the screen feels about as likely as a rose growing through the concrete (miss you, Pac). Like the main characters in the remake of the classic Western “The Magnificent Seven,” most weekends at the movie theater feel like an attempt at dodging bullets. It’s getting to a point where people have to pick their poison between the reboot, the remake or the lazily staged adaptation. This week I decided to go with “The Magnificent Seven,” a remake of a famous 1960 Western which was also a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” from 1954.
I love a good Western, and “The Magnificent Seven” might be the most perfect example of a “good” film. It’s an entertaining Western with a great cast, awesome action and all the elements that made the original so much fun.
It’s the late 1800s and the Wild West is a wasteland of hope, populated by killers, criminals and land barons who are looking to make a profit on the backs of hard-working simple folk. Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is a warrant officer looking to scrape the scum from the dusty bottom of the barrel and make the frontier a safer place. After being approached by a determined widow (Haley Bennett) to help her save her town from a thieving, cigarillo-chewing, mustache-twirling menace (Peter Sarsgaard), Chisolm assembles a crew of misfits and ne’er-do-wells to take care of business.
This leads to the assembly of a wonderful ensemble of stereotypes, both of the Western and action-film variety. There’s Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), the sneering, surly Mexican killing machine; Big Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a mountainman with an epic sense of righteousness; and Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), the charming gambler, who’s as disarming with a smile as he is with a six-shooter. Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun) prefers to use knives and daggers to take down any man who looks at him funny. And who could forget Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke)—who once shot a man just for snoring? Along with Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a member of the Comanche Tribe, these would-be heroes head to the sleepy tumbleweed-filled town of Rose Springs to help the people fight back.
Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) injects a lot of fun and energy into this remake. Westerns are one of the genres I think can greatly benefit from modern filmmaking techniques—specifically the action sequences. There’s a sense of scope and kinetic energy untapped, even if the basic framework is the same. Fuqua and his talented cast manage to make a movie that very much feels like its own iteration.
The cast contributes greatly to the success of the film. They are very likable and given free rein to chew scenery as needed. Denzel is the Shaft of the film world: The man delivers 10 times out of 10. Chris Pratt continues to prove a powerful personality that blends humor and heart, and carries on a leading-man persona that is making him this generation’s Harrison Ford. I was a little puzzled by Haley Bennett in the female role, who seemingly spent the entire movie making serious faces and trying her damnedest not to look like the dime-store version of Jennifer Lawrence … which she totally did.
I wish more summer blockbusters aspired to be “Magnificent Seven”: reverential to the source material but unafraid to put its own spin on the property. So many remakes struggle to find that line between sticking too close to the inspiring story and deviating far enough to make the entire proposition interesting enough to warrant its existence. The truth is that simple line murdered so many movies this year, like a piece of garrote wrapped tightly around the throat.
“The Magnificent Seven” is a fun, frivolous Western with an exceptional cast and deftly directed. It’s a shame we don’t get more movies like this. Credit has to be given to Fuqua for not being overwhelmed by reverence to the original.