The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake; the 1960 John Sturges western itself being a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai. Seven Samurai is generally revered as one of the great films of the history of cinema while The Magnificent Seven is regarded as one of the greats of the western genre. The western has not been a popular genre in a long time, so in way it is more primed for remakes than other genres because of the lack of a wide audience and because overall they are so few and far between now. Director Antoine Fuqua tackles this project, bringing modern action and storytelling to the story, as well as a diverse cast, updating the classic unfortunately with mixed results.
The small mining town of Rose Creek is under the domineering thumb of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who has slaughtered several villagers and burned down the church to make an example of folks who try to stand up to him. This leads two villagers, the widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and Tommy (Luke Grimes), to ride out to seek help to defend the town when Bogue returns in three weeks. They cross paths with Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) a warrant officer from Kansas. They make their appeal to Chisolm and eventually win him over to their cause, despite their meager payment for his services. Chisolm set about rounding up a crew to defend the town, starting with a gambler he met in town named Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt). They rustle up a Confederate veteran named Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his traveling partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee, an Asian immigrant and knife expert; a mountain man by the name of Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio); and an outlaw by the name of Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). On their way to Rose Creek they also add an exiled Comanche named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) to their ranks. After initially getting rid of the presence that Bogue has in town, they make preparations to defend the town and await Bogue’s return, likely outnumbered and facing nearly impossible odds.
Without getting into the weeds of comparing this film to the two predecessors by Kurosawa and Sturges, it is worth noting that Fuqua’s story follows Kurosawa’s storyline more than that of Sturges, whose film featured some notable 3rd act departures from that of Kurosawa. Still, there is a close visual adherence to what Sturges created in 1960. Washington is decked out in all black, similar to Yul Brenner was. Though the names are all different, most of the seven resemble archetypes of the characters from the 1960 film. In fact, most of these characters work best when they serve as archetypes rather than fully fleshed out characters, something that makes the story so easily adaptable across genres.
The diversity of the cast is notable, and none of it really feels forced. They all have good chemistry with one another, working well off of each other as a rag tag group assembled from disparate parts to perform a task they know they are unlikely to walk out of alive. The film does just enough to highlight the sense of honor found in what they are doing, making note of the fact that while what the town has to offer for payment isn’t much, it’s everything they have, and Chisolm has received rich rewards in the past, he has never been offered everything someone has. The action is pretty good as well, particularly in the 3rd act when Bogue and his forces arrive. There is plenty of levity as well, something the film shares with the other two films. It also further solidifies Chris Pratt as a movie star, sliding into the role that belonged to Steve McQueen in the 1960 film. He fits well alongside Denzel on screen.
Sadly, the film has its share of struggles. Fuqua films have never been particularly breathtaking, working frequently with cinematographer Mauro Fiore. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been blown away by recent films like Slow West or The Revenant or The Hateful Eight that utilize and showcase the surrounding landscape so well, but I found this film disappointingly unappealing and ordinary visually.
While I enjoyed most of the cast, particularly Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Kim, Peter Sarsgaard left a lot to be desired as the main villain of the film. He’s someone who can be very good in the right roles, but despite the villainy of the character, he never comes across as particularly menacing, imposing, or dangerous. And while we’re talking about the cast, I know that Vincent D’Onofrio was playing a mountain man who was living on his own and a little crazy because of it, and D’Onofrio is prone to eccentric performances, but the decisions he made vocally, speaking in this higher register, did not work for me at all.
As previously mentioned, the film just the bare minimum to highlight the honor of Chisolm and his men taking the job, but not much beyond that. Once it is established that they will do it, the poor stature of the townsfolk is shoved to the background to focus on the seven men. The other two films did a far better job of integrating the men with the townsfolk and developing a bond between the hired guns and the people they’re defending. Fuqua could have used more of that here. Instead, the film hints at a previous encounter between Chisolm and Bogue that is finally brought to light in the 3rd chapter, which feels like an unnecessary addition to the plot and undermines the heroism of Chisolm.
The Magnificent Seven never quite reaches the level of being magnificent. It settles in for being a satisfactory action flick dressed up in the clothing of a western. It has some enough entertaining elements to be a good time, especially if you have no framework of the John Sturges film and especially if you’ve never seen Seven Samurai. However, there’s not enough entertainment to fully recommend it, and finds itself lacking in some aspects too.
Rating 2.5 out of 5 stars