One of the things that is so impressive about Antoine Fuqua’s remake of “The Magnificent Seven” is how it manages to make something that has done so many times still feel fresh. This new western is the retelling of the 1960 Steve McQueen film, which in and of itself was a retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai”, takes so much from not only its classic source material, but other cowboy pictures of its era. Yet it still feels new, because when was the last time you saw a western like this? Blue skies, rolling tumbleweeds, good-ol’-shootouts? Other directors have stabbed at the genre, like the Coen Brothers (“True Grit”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”, “The Hateful Eight”). But Fuqua has brought back the glory of the dustbowl classics, and with joyous enthusiasm.
Yes, despite the current curse of the remakes, “The Magnificent Seven” is one hell of a blockbuster. Not only the look of 50’s and 60’s cowboy flicks are returned, but their unadulterated sense of fun and adventure. This film is an indulgence in cliches, but those said tropes have been absent from American cinemas for so many years that this feels like a discovery, as I suspect it may be for many a moviegoer.
The plot is so familiar, perhaps not in this film, but in fans of Clint Eastwood’s pictures, and, surprisingly, Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life”, which also based itself on Kurosawa’s film. A simple town is being overrun by the empire of Bartholomew Bogue (an ultra-creepy Peter Saarsgard,) an evil oil baron. So a recently widowed woman named Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) recruits several horse-riding badasses to help drive them out.
Those badasses are bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), trick hand Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt), Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheux (Ethan Hawke) Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rufio), Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun), who’s even better with a knife than he with a gun, bear-like tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’onofrio), and Native American hunter (Martin Sensmeier). Every one of these guys has a different style of fighting, and boy, do they get to use them!
Each of the actors brings something to the team, and they all turn in charming, if not occasionally strange, performances. Denzel brings what he always does, a confident, intriguing performance. He is fantastic as Chisolm, in drama and in action. Pratt makes for a good funnyman, as he always does, and his cocky Faraday is a fine role. Vincent D’onofrio has his most over-the-top part since “Men in Black”, and the film is better for it. But the character highlight of the film is the chemistry between Hawke and Byung-hun. They work magic together, and their relationship is a scene-stealer.
And the action, man, the action! There are two huge set pieces, one in the second act, and a 30-minute fight that takes up the vast majority of the third act. There battles are wonderfully choreographed and beautifully shot, using wide shots to show the scope the action and close-ups to make the action about the characters. The characters are at the center of the chaos, and you care about them due to the development given in the rest of the film. There is a real sense of danger in this film, a thought that some of these heroes could be hurt. They don’t feel like superheroes. These are men, fighting for a righteous cause. That makes the action all the more intriguing. And the extra western delight of constant gunfire and showdowns make this one of the best action scenes of the entire year.
People have been trying to read very deep into this film, digging for some political message, which seemingly every piece of art must have in the midst of this election. Some critics have been calling it a warning about Trump’s presidency or a farewell to Obama’s America. I think that is ridiculous. This is a picture that aims to be nothing much more than thrilling western escapism, and it hits that mark dead center. The gorgeous scenery of sprawling deserts and canyons and fast-paced action evokes nothing less than an ear-to-ear grin to any action fan. It’s good to be back in the Old West. Hopefully this movie’s success will bring many more tales like it.
Final Grade: B+