Review: The Magnificent Seven: Not So Much But…
Remakes have to be the hardest kind of films to make.
The biggest challenge being getting out of the shadow of the original. No matter how good a job you do, you will always be compared to the predecessor – and usually, things fall short for whatever reason.
Total Recall. Psycho. Nightmare on Elm Street. Ben Hur. Clash Of The Titans are some of the worst remakes in movie history. I know.
Balance that list however with movies like The Departed. True Lies. Scarface. The Man Who Knew Too Much (a remake by the same director of the original). Ocean’s Eleven. The Italian Job and you’ll find there are really amazing remakes too.
Now to the question of the day – on which of these lists does The Magnificent Seven belong?
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, The Magnificent Seven is a remake of the 1960 film of the same title, which in turn is a remake of Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa, the man who also directed Yojimbo, the movie remade as A Fistful of Dollars and launched the career of Clint Eastwood as ‘The Man With No Name’.
Hollywood; ‘copycatting’ since 19kiridim.
The latest incarnation of one of the most remade/referenced movies in cinema follows the same basic premise: a small town is terrorized by someone with more guns than them (bandits in Seven Samurai, outlaws in The Magnificent Seven) and they recruit seven men to help them. In this case however, the bad man is Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), wealthy and sick industrialist who had the great fortune (or misfortune; depending on who you ask) of finding gold in fictional town Rose Creek. So he moves to take over the town, forcing the settlers to sell their lands to him at ridiculous prices or die. That isn’t much of a choice.
One day (the day the movie starts) he storms the church building in which the settlers are having a meeting and kills Mathew Cullen, young husband of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett (she was also in The Equalizer!). His cowboys beat the pastor, kill some more townspeople and set fire to the church.
Emma rousts a young townsman Teddy Q and together they go looking for help. They find it in a nearby town where warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is serving a bounty for a bartender. After the fight, they approach him and he turns them down saying they cannot afford him. In what is probably the most memorable line from the film, Sam asks Emma;
Sam: So you’re looking for revenge.
Emma: I seek righteousness, as all men should. But I’ll take revenge.
The desperate Emma then drops the name of their tormentor and Sam agrees to help without pay or compensation. Curious, no?
Then he goes around looking for men to help. In another memorable sequence, he approaches Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) who he saves from a gunfight by offering to buy him a horse;
Sam: I’m looking for some men to do a job.
Josh: Is it difficult?
This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie, cool moments and humorous banter. Sam Chisolm gets to recruiting a band of misfits but capable men, including his old friend Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke who also co-starred in Training Day); a former army sharpshooter, Goodnight’s friend; knife-wielding silent killer Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), skilled tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio (Kingpin from Daredevil in case you didn’t know), a Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and notorious Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).
And then the ruckus starts.
Compared to its predecessors, the new Magnificent Seven suffers mostly from a lack of emotional weight. The fighters have no reason to help the towns people except for Sam (whose selfish reasons we discover later in the movie), Goodnight (who does it out of loyalty to Sam), Billy (who simply goes everywhere Goodnight goes), Josh (who ‘owes’ Sam a debt because of the horse (lame reason really), Vasquez (who follows so Sam won’t serve a warrant on him). The other two just sort of ‘happen along’. Maybe they were looking for some sort of redemption – we’re never told.
Even the moments in which some of our most beloved characters die is reduced to ordinary ‘characters-dying-in-a-movie’ moments. No haunting music. No tear-jerking last words/moments. No sobbing damsel(s).
However as a stand-alone movie (which really is how remakes should be judged but will never happen) The Magnificent Seven carries its weight well. It is a light-hearted fun movie that has enough laughs, gunfights and ‘cool’ moments to keep your eyes glued to the screen. Denzel is smooth as ever, dressed in all black and spinning guns like he was born to it. Chris Pratt is a natural cowboy; his gun-slinging is exceptional. Byung-hun is the silent killer; I doubt he speaks twenty words the entire film. His presence is felt, however especially once the shooting starts.
Only he doesn’t do much shooting. He prefers another kind of weapon.
In spite of Denzel being the lead, the weight of the movie is spread almost evenly between the stars. All seven had their ‘moments’, fair on-screen time and distinct personalities. None of them were background – though some spoke more than others. That; however is more a reflection of the characters than the scripting.
Remake comparisons aside, my major gripe is the lack of back-story and emotional depth for the seven leads. We come up on them like the camera comes up on them; in the middle of a normal day in their lives and we just follow. There’s no particular reason to care for them, therefore what makes the deaths of some of them bland is also the truth that we do not know them. We like them, but they basically are a bunch of strangers dying. We shrug.
There’s also no romance anywhere except for some light-flirting between Chris and Haley’s characters. They make nothing of it, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it leaves something lacking.
The movie score was somewhat disappointing too; after learning it was the last score James Horner (Titanic, Avatar, Enemy at the Gates, The Amazing Spiderman) worked on before his death in a plane crash last year (2015) I was expecting more. For a movie like that, it’s only fair to expect something memorable, along the lines of The Hateful Eight and The Good The Bad and The Ugly.
Or maybe that’s expecting too much.
Still, The Magnificent Seven, while not memorable is fun to watch. There’s hardly a slow moment through the two hours, thirteen minutes runtime. You should see it.
all pictures found via Google.