Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves. (Source)
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is so timeless, in a way, it cries out to be constantly retold. John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven is a legendary take on the material, and now, director Antoine Fuqua has delivered his own retelling of the latter. That film, released in 1960, was a redemption story about seven hired guns discovering something far greater than themselves. Fuqua’s version is a bit more surface, but still fast, slick and modern. It’s not the best of the three, but stays afloat due to its stellar ensemble, with Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisolm leading a rogue’s gallery of hired guns whose chemistry can’t be beat.
The plot is centered around bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who comes to the aid of a village ravaged by tyrant Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The film takes its time letting Chisolm select his team, but it’s fun seeing them shape up. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a charismatic smooth talker who’s also good with a pistol. Jack Hunter (Vincent D’Onofrio) is an eccentric tracker while Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is a legendary marksman struggling with a violent past. Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) round out the cast and bring an authenticity to their characters even with little screen time. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), a widow seeking revenge is a catalyst for the team’s assembly.
Without a doubt, it’s the film’s ensemble that shines and brings the film to life. Washington is perfectly cast as the anti-hero in black, Chisolm. Washington is charismatic and has instant chemistry with everyone he interacts with. As a leading man, he’s compelling to watch and disappears into the role – it’s almost as if he gives the film its confidence. Hawke’s Robicheaux conveys his torment well, struggling against a legacy of violence and death – his struggle with taking life is one of the film’s highlights, and his eyes telegraph things without needing words. Pratt’s Faraday is no stand in for Steve McQueen, carving his own niche and doing it very well. In general, the ensemble knows what their roles are and work together as a whole. Between them, they have it all; the humor, heart and conviction to make everything work.
As it is, this version works fine as a gritty reinvention which packs in quite a few nods to its predecessors, everything from set pieces to specific lines of dialogue. Fuqua’s version seems a bit more rushed, though, with some shoddy introductions and a mustache-twirling villain that doesn’t break past archetype. Whereas the original two films explored social inequality with visions of poverty at the fore, this latest tale also reveals darker implications of vengeance. There’s a late game revelation that repurposes the seven’s intentions into something morally ambiguous, keeping them on the side of outlaws and anti-heroes rather than people acting out of honor. Still, the film finds its footing in the modern action genre with its astonishing final battle between a hundred men against seven.
The film’s final, extended set piece is big, bold and without a doubt some, one of the most explosive action put on screen this year. It’s dazzling and commendable for its commitment to practical stunts. The team is pinned by a massive army and they must lure them into the town in order to trap them inside. The sequence is extremely well planned, with clean, choreographed action that’s easy to read but still intense, though the climax does seem as if it were the idea of some studio executive. Still, the tangible nature of it all, and the actors on horseback is a thrill we rarely get to see with this type of scale.
Fuqua’s pointed direction, big landscapes and excellent casting make The Magnificent Seven a ride worth taking. There’s no shortage of things to blow up, a really fun call out to Elmer Bernstein’s original score, and a breezy vibe that helps us to overlook the film’s surface-level depth. Mainly though, the actors filling out the screen are so damn good, we can’t look away.