Short Version: Though it will never take the place of the original masterpiece (Seven Samurai) or the subsequent remake, (The Magnificent Seven-1960), Fuqua’s re-imagining is flawed but often funny, emotionally impactful, with a diverse cast of today’s best actors and talented newcomers.
In recent memory, we have seen a slew of action remakes/: The Karate Kid, Robo-Cop, Total Recall, Red Dawn. These films have been forgettable at best – The Karate Kid – to unwatchable at worst – Point Break. (I pity the movie exec who thought that abomination was going to be a hit.) So when Sony announced they were remaking The Magnificent Seven, I was skeptical. Like most folks, I was puzzled at the reasoning behind a remake of a bonafide piece of American history.
The 1960 version managed to take a near-perfect Japanese language film and arguably make it better. To improve upon that feat would be nearly impossible. Perhaps that is why Fuqua and the cast lead by Denzel Washington choose to go a different route. To be clear, The Magnificent Seven is not a true remake. It’s a reimagining; though the film hits the same beats, it is a film on its own with new characters and storylines. The main plots points are the same: a villainous character pillages a town, and rag-tag gunfighters come together to protect and avenge the frightened townspeople.
In the new adaptation, Peter Sarsgaard plays the villain, mining magnet Bartholomew Bogue. We open with Sarsgaard giving his best Daniel Day Lewis from There Will be Blood impression, as he offers the town farmers close to nothing to vacate their land or face execution. For a revenge plot to work, you have to have a compelling villain. Sarsgaard tries, but how many ways can you play the ruthless businessman motivated by greed.
After Bogue’s offer, the townspeople naturally object, and in a show of force, Bogue burns down the church and murders half the town. He then gives a three-week deadline to leave their land or face execution. Now, we have our villain, Bogue, who we’re fighting for, the farmers – led by widow Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett) – and now all we need to do is find our heroes. If this sounds formulaic to you, that’s because it is. The Magnificent Seven is a by-the-numbers revenge plot western. Though, it does have a few predictable yet good tricks up its sleeve.
The cast of characters is really where The Magnificent Seven shines. Washington plays Chisolm, a bounty hunter who will do anything for a price. He is approached by Emma to fight for the town. Chisolm then goes out to recruit the rest of the team. Chisolm enlists Goodnight Robicheaux (played by Ethan Hawk), a troubled but legendary marksman fighting his demons, and his partner, Billy Rocks, an Asian knife fighter with unparalleled skills. Mexican Outlaw Vasquez joins next to avoid apprehension, and Native American Red Harvest agrees just for the chance to fight a good fight (played by Manuel Garcia-Ruflo and Martin Sensmeier respectively). The various motivations for each character have equally varying levels of believability, but why the characters choose to band together is not as important as the characters themselves. The group is rounded out by the often comic but never cartoonish characters of tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’inofro) and drunken Irish card-player Jack Faraday (Chris Pratt). D’inofro is hilarious as the falsetto, bible-spouting mountain man. Comparing his performance here to the hulking, soft-spoken, yet terrifying villain he plays on Daredevil just shows his incredible range as an actor. Chris Pratt is, well, Chris Pratt, and gets the most laughs as the roguish yet affable gunslinger. Yes, Pratt is essentially playing Peter Quill (Guardians of the Galaxy) with a six-shooter instead of a laser, and a bottle of whiskey instead of a Walkman, but he does it well. I don’t know how long Pratt can keep playing this archetype before audiences tire of it, but the darker edge and self-destructive nature of Faraday helps set this character apart.
Once assembled, the dynamic between the various characters was the most entertaining part of the film. I enjoyed every interaction, from realistic kinship between Chisolm and Robicheaux, to the comedic juxtaposition of Indian hunter, Horne, and Cherokee, Red Harvest, to the comedic wrangling between Faraday and Vasquez. The best interaction by far is the indisputable yet unspoken bond between Billy and Goodnight. Almost immediately following their introduction, the first thing we as the audience understand is that these two men have a profound, poignant, and beautiful connection. With such great performances from a talented cast, you mostly forgive The Magnificent Seven for its predictability and bloated runtime. As much as I love the character development, there are likely 20 minutes of this 2 hour 12 minute Western that could (and should) have hit the cutting room floor. I will give kudos to Fuqua for casting culturally respective actors to play each role. It’s sad that we have to applaud this but with casting, especially indigenous peoples, Hollywood has an embarrassing track record.
We follow the western revenge plot formula (i.e. Django, Unforgiven, etc.) all the way to the end, complete with a no holds barred shootout finale. However, the best part of the third act is watching the seven’s efforts to prepare the townsfolk for the showdown. The seven hilariously set up traps to level the odds against Bogue that makes it feel like we’re watching Home Alone at the OK Corral. Even though there are few surprises, we are still invested because of the characters as we watch the visually stunning and sophisticated action sequences of the final battle.
If you are going into The Magnificent Seven expecting a cinematic masterpiece or the film that will save a bleak 2016 box office, you will be severely disappointed. But if you want two hours of laughs, bullets, brawls, and perhaps a few tears, The Magnificent Seven is a serviceable distraction.
By: Jacqueline Coley