Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven (which itself was a remake of Seven Samurai) has enough in common with the Yul Brynner/Steve McQueen original to make it feel like a re-telling of the classic story. It also contains enough departures from the original to make it feel like a fresh take.
The Mexican bandits led by Eli Wallach in the original are replaced by an evil, land-stealing company led by a man named Bartholomew Bogue. As played by Peter Sarsgaard, Bogue is a memorable villain who makes skin crawl. He rolls into a mining town; kills a bunch of good, hard working people; and winds up getting the grouping in the movie’s title opposing his ass. Let the spectacular gunfights commence!
Fuqua pal Denzel Washington (they also worked together on The Equalizer and Training Day) is first-rate as Chisolm, basically Brynner’s role from the 1960 classic. When the wife of one of the deceased (Haley Bennett) comes looking for help and mentions Bogue’s name, Chisolm flies into calm, collected and valiant action. He enlists six other men to visit the town and prepare the townspeople for the fight of their lives.
The Magnificent Seven include Chisolm, scheming alcoholic gunslinger Faraday (Chris Pratt), the knife-wielding Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Vasquez the “Texican” (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
Each member of the cast does a nice job of building a character in the 133-minute film. Hawke (who also frequents many Fuqua films) is especially good as the once-heartless sharpshooter who now has a case of the Jon Voight-in-Deliverance shakes when he tries to kill a living thing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here again: Hawke is the most improved actor I’ve witnessed in my years of reviewing movies. This guy used to be the worst thing on a movie screen, and now he is one of the best.
Pratt scores laughs as the slightly racist, Archie Bunker-with-a-pistol member of the crew. D’Onofrio is equally funny, sometimes employing a high-pitched voice, as a man of honorable means who will crush your face with his boot if you steal from him.
Fuqua most certainly knows how to stage an action scene, and the action scenes in this one are absolutely thrilling. Every gunfight is expertly staged and beautifully tense, especially the final standoff. I was reminded watching this movie that if it weren’t for that final battle in the original The Magnificent Seven, we wouldn’t have had those final battles in Blazing Saddles and The Three Amigos.
While the film somehow scored a PG-13 rating, it’s worth noting that it is still very violent. There are not only a lot of gun deaths in this movie; there is some serious stabbing and slashing with knives and forks and things. I was actually surprised by how brutal the film was. I guess the MPAA has some sort of blood-volume criterion, and a movie can stab and shoot as much as it wants as long as no more than two quarts or so of fake blood is spilled. By my eye, this sucker is an R-rated movie.
If anything takes the film down a notch, it’s the all-too-clean production values. The sets often look like something out of Disney’s Frontierland, and the costuming is a little too clean and spiffy. I prefer Westerns that are a little grittier (Eastwood’s Unforgiven being the high watermark).
The Magnificent Seven gets the fall movie season off to a good start. It’s actually the sort of well-cast, thrilling blockbuster we often would see in the summer, and it gives the old time Western genre a decent addition.
The Magnificent Seven is playing at theaters across the valley.