By Thomas Simpson
Hollywood continues to rehash ideas with Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven. A remake the 1960 Western (which itself was adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), the film sees a bunch of humble farmers being bullied and extorted by corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). When Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) witnesses her husband murdered by Bogue, she seeks help in warrant officer Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington). While he’s hesitant to help at first he quickly changes his mind when he learns of Bogue’s involvement. With the odds stacked against him, Chisholm enlists the assistance of six fearsome gunslingers and warriors, a motley crew of rogues who must gel quickly to take on an army of bad guys.
The 1960 version boasts an incredible cast featuring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson to name a few. Fuqua assembles an ensemble cast of his own with Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onorfrio and Ethan Hawke holstering their six shooters. The actors have a great chemistry but a few players get lost in the shuffle due to narrative constraints. From a visual perspective, all eyes are on Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Rocks is as skilled with a knife as he is with a gun which leads to impressive stunts that combine the Western tone with Eastern influence. The Native American Red Harvest is the wild card of the bunch with Sensmeir exhibiting a striking and intimidating figure, most notably when the war paint is applied in the third act.
The action comes quick and fast with Fuqua delivering loud and exciting gun battles with no shortage of kills. The film may lack depth and emotion but the director is successful in preventing the action from getting dull a repetitive as he continually ups the stakes as the film rumbles towards its conclusion. The final encounter is a great spectacle that puts everyone in the crosshairs. It isn’t exactly Game of Thrones, but no one appears safe regardless of where their name appears on the poster.
Washington continues to exude a natural coolness with an engaging magnetism to complement his star power. His role as Chisholm won’t win him any Oscars but he looks to be having a ball as a cowboy, as do much of the cast. As expected, Pratt offers some comic relief as he charms his way through the film, even if his character has a darkness to him. It isn’t explored in great detail but you won’t reflect on it by the time the credits roll.
The Magnificent Seven is a popcorn munching Western with thrilling set-pieces and a well-paced screenplay. It doesn’t compare to its predecessors and neither does it attempt to imitate them. It gives a few nods of respect but The Magnificent Seven stands on its own strengths and weaknesses, with the former outweighing the latter.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.