It seems as though the 2010s have been the decade of the movie remake. Revamped versions of classics like Ghostbusters (2016), Point Break (2015) and Carrie (2013) have graced our screens as of late; and newest to join them is Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven. Based on the original film by director John Sturges, which in turn was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), Fuqua’s retelling follows in the footsteps of the 1960s original, considered to be so iconic it has been preserved in the United States National Film Registry. These are big boots to fill, and Fuqua’s big name cast attempts to live up to the likes of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach – no easy feat, even for an action icon like Denzel Washington. Nevertheless, the film manages to be entertaining, exciting and gritty in its own right, despite not reaching the same heights as its legendary predecessor.
Fuqua’s re-imagining sees the desperate town of Rose Creek reach out to seven deadly mercenaries to rescue them from the clutches of cold hearted tycoon, Bartholomew Bogue. This band of unlikely heroes is led by the sullen bounty hunter Chisolm, played by action star Denzel Washington. By now Washington is no stranger to playing blockbuster leading men, and he falls into the role of Chisolm with relative ease. Chisolm acts as the uniting force of the movie, tying together the sporadic and unique characters and plot-lines to make a single, coherent story. For this reason Washington’s leading man can come off as somewhat bland, lacking of depth – the archetypal brooding cowboy. It’s not only Washington that struggles to make a significant impression. Chris Pratt’s Josh Faraday sparks off witty one liners that fail to sound natural and come off instead as though he were reading from a queue card. For the first half of the film, the script and story, whilst still entertaining, gives us little to work with beyond the generic and stereotypical. This over reliance on a classic story caused the first half of the movie to lack depth in its characters.
Attention must also be drawn to Vincent D’Onofrio’s strange choice of accent whilst playing his character Jack Horne; a huge, wild looking man whose imposing appearance causes Pratt’s Faraday to exclaim ‘that bear was wearing people clothes!’. An accurate observation but one that is immediately contradicted the second D’Onofrio opens his mouth. Whilst relatively inconsequential to the quality of the film, D’Onofrio’s whimpering, almost inaudible mutter (think Squeaky-Voiced Teen from the Simpsons) caused my family and I to chuckle through some otherwise serious scenes. Thankfully this diminished as the movie went on and allowed D’Onofrio’s acting to shine through.
When it’s finally time to get down to business, the Seven don’t disappoint. At around the midway point the film drastically picks up as we watch them prepare for full on war against Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue. When the crunch approaches we see our characters become more than two dimensional. This especially can be said for Chisolm and and expert sniper Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) who simultaneously face their own demons whilst taking on Bogue’s forces.
Hawke’s Robicheaux and Lee Byung-Hun’s Billy Rocks stood out as the more fascinating characters and gave consistent performances. Their relationship gave the film a little more heart and made us more invested in what happened to these heroic mercenaries. Byung-Hun cut a cool cowboy whose knife skills were just as impressive as his shooting, whilst Hawke played a more hesitant hero which was refreshing amidst the typical cowboy gun slinging.
We have to wait until the credits role in to hear that classic Elmer Bernstein theme, but the payoff is certainly worth it. There’s nothing like a classic score to tie a film together, give it meaning and remind us of how great the original was. Fuqua’s reluctance to use it anywhere else in the film makes the movie more its own, and less a simple rehash of its successful original. Instead, James Horner’s score (gifted to Fuqua before his tragic death) hints at Bernstein’s theme whilst remaining original.
Overall The Magnificent Seven is fun and fast paced, witty in places and boasts a big name cast that, by the end of the film, live up to expectations. It’s a film you need to stick with and wait for the pick up that ultimately comes. It can never beat the original, and perhaps it didn’t seek to do that, but it definitely succeeded in being entertaining. It’s worth a watch whether you’re a seasoned western fan or not.