Before you dismiss 2016’s The Magnificent Seven as just another uninspired Hollywood remake, do yourself a favor: forget everything you know about the original. Leave any preconceived notions at the door, because this remake (reboot?) stands on its own and is a welcomed addition to the modern western genre.
To those cinephiles shouting “blasphemy!” at the film’s director Antoine Fuqua for remaking one of the greatest American Westerns of all time, let’s not forget that 1960’s The Magnificent Seven is a western-style remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese-language movie Seven Samurai. Also, there have already been three bad sequels and a failed TV adaptation to the 1960 version.
That’s enough movie history. So how does the 2016 version of this classic tale stack up? Fuqua, whose impressive resume boasts films like Training Day, The Equalizer and last year’s Southpaw, has crafted a great modern day western that doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, but rather just usher it into the 21 st century.
In the 1960 version, seven white gunslingers are hired to protect a poor Mexican village, but this time around a diverse group of mercenaries are enlisted to protect a small white town. Set in the 1870s, Fuqua’s version of the classic story centers on the small mining town of Rose Creek. Desperate to protect their land from murderous capitalist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who then assembles his team of outlaws.
Chisolm’s guns for hire include lovable gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt); former Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke); trapper Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio); master knife wielder Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); a Mexican fugitive named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). In addition to the seven male gunslingers, rifle-wielding widow Emma Cullen (Bennett) more than holds her own throughout the action.
Washington is spot on here as the hero. The Oscar winner's stoicism and on screen presence carries much of the film and is the glue that holds the crew together. Washington's main co-star Chris Pratt delivers the typical charismatic and wisecracking performance audiences have come to expect, which is fine in this role.
Aside from Washington, the stand out performance is from Hawke. Ethan, who recently delivered one of the best performances of his career as jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in Born to be Blue, turns in a stellar turn as the complex Robicheaux. On the surface, the silver tongued Robicheaux has it all together, but we soon learn that he is battling a great deal of unresolved trauma from war.
Veteran character actor D’Onofrio is a scene-stealer as the endearing former Native American scalper (is there such a thing?), while the devilish Sarsgaard chews the scenery as the deplorable Bogue.
Unsurprisingly with Fuqua behind the camera, the action is fast, hard and always well-choreographed. Although the film’s tone is lighthearted at times—with characters riffing and cracking one liners—the action is intense for a PG-13 rating. The final showdown between Chisolm’s men and Bogue’s gang won’t go down as one of the most memorable western movie finales, but it’s action packed and entertaining nonetheless—featuring explosions, impressive stunts, and even a Gatling gun.
Fuqua does an ample job crafting a film that will appeal to both long-time fans of the genre, as well as younger fans who might not be familiar with traditional westerns. Fuqua doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but he's updated it just enough so it fits a more modern style of wagon.
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