In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for the Cinema Sins YouTube channel. Some of my favorite films have been ruined irreparably for me based on their nitpicks. I’ve also been very open with my hatred of the phrase “turn your brain off.” But this is exactly what I ended up doing as I watched Antoine Fuqua’s remake of ‘The Magnificent Seven,’ even as I wrestled the urge to nitpick it to death.
Richard Wenk and Nick Pizzolatto’s script is a cliché sandwich with a side of stock character au jus. However, the charismatic trifecta of Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke (who is on a roll this year – he deserves an Oscar for ‘Born to Be Blue’) elevates it to such an enjoyable experience that the fun I had far outweighed the complaints. It’s also worth noting that Fuqua brings a unique cinematic energy to the project, crafting a luxuriously paced western that still feels feisty.
None of my praise is to say that Fuqua’s film is anywhere near as captivating as John Sturges’s 1960 original western or Akira Kurosawa’s classic ‘Seven Samurai’ (1954) on which the western is based. In fact, what this version lacks most is the heightened sense of heroism amongst the ragtag vigilantes of the title.
There’s something to be said, though, for the determination and slickness with which Fuqua crafts the picture. The sets are unapologetically old-Hollywood, but photographed smartly with likely the best cameras money can buy. The simple premise has not been updated in any major way: seven hired guns protect a small town from archetypal western villains. The archetype itself may have changed, but it’s surprising how little of story substance has been altered as the tale still manages to entertain.
Peter Sarsgaard scowls through his role as Bartholomew Bogue, a robber-baron mining magnate who literally shoots first and asks questions later. He and his men burn down a steeple and murder several men in the town of Rose Creek, prompting newly-widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to enlist the help of peace officer Sam Chisolm (Washington) in order to fend off an army of Bogue’s company men.
Emma follows Chisolm on his quest to recruit five of the most skilled outlaws he knows. The sixth shows up almost out of nowhere: a wandering Native American named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). He’s the character whose lack of development I took the most issue with. Outside of being a great fighter and archer, the one thing we know about him is that he knows barely any English.
However, even though the other outlaws of the seven aren’t developed much better, this movie still has much to offer. It’s a pleasure to see cinematographer Mauro Fiore’s vibrant canvas of hardscrabble wilderness filled in by such capable actors. Denzel is as compelling as ever in the iconic Yul Brynner role. He never tries to ape Brynner’s brand of altruism, but instead holds a quiet contempt for Bogue which he lets loose towards the end.
Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo round out the gang of misfit gunmen, and as much as Fuqua tries to position them all as completely heroic, they’re more interesting when they’re more complicated. The best of the dialogue is their one-liners, delivered both on horseback and in various taverns. Those quick exchanges tell us more about them than any ham-fisted attempt at backstory ever could.
And then we get to the final shootout. It’s rare that I find myself willing to turn off my brain, but this scene earns it because even as it engages in western clichés, it upends them in a variety of interesting ways. The excellence of the pacing and choreography of this sequence cannot be overstated.
So even taking into account its flaws and the fact it can’t hope to hold a candle to the original, I found Fuqua’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ exciting, charming, and even laugh-out-loud funny at times. I’m surprised MGM and Sony released it in September. It’s a much better summer movie than any of this summer’s crop. Alas, even with name recognition, perhaps westerns simply don’t sell like they used to.
‘The Magnificent Seven’ = B+
‘The Magnificent Seven’ is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.