Review: The Magnificent Seven
This review originally ran as part of our TIFF 2016 coverage
PLOT: A gunslinger (Denzel Washington) is recruited by a young widow (Haley Bennett) to save her town from a sadistic tycoon (Peter Sarsgaard). In order to take on his hired guns, they recruit an additional six men, including a hard-living poker player (Chris Pratt), a Civil War vet (Ethan Hawke) and more.
REVIEW: While Hollywood’s as remake crazy as ever, it’s hard to get too up-in-arms about something like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. After all, it’s a remake of a film that was itself a remake (of Akira Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI). While big-budget westerns are still a rarity on the big-screen, the name value, combined with the ever popular Elmer Bernstein theme (which only gets a brief reprise here) and the potential of casting seven big names in the leads must have made this an attractive prospect.
The finished film is rock-solid, thanks to the above-average craftsmanship of director Antoine Fuqua (as solid a mainstream director as they come) and the always-towering charisma of star Denzel Washington. While not exactly “THE EQUALIZER in the Old West”, the two movies have the same philosophy, being that the strong must protect the weak. Still, Washington’s character is less monk-like here than McCall was, with him guided by his own hot-blooded desire for revenge rather than selflessness.
The danger of Washington playing the lead is that he’s so dynamic he tends to cast a long shadow. Expertly playing the Yul Brynner-part (sporting similar black clothes – but with hair) Washington does indeed dominate, although Fuqua also finds plenty of bits of business for the other guys to play with. Pratt plays what could be considered the Steve McQueen-style second-fiddle part, although he reminded me more of Horst Buchholz’s young apprentice. Pratt is actually dialed-back somewhat here, with him being more hard-bitten than in previous parts, although he still has that twinkle in his eye fans love. Ethan Hawke probably has the juiciest part as a shell-shocked army sharpshooter, basically playing the part Robert Vaughn did in the original. Byung-hun Lee moseys into James Coburn’s shoes as the quiet, unbeatable killer, while Vincent D’Onofrio mercilessly chews scenery and steals scenes as a mountain man that seems semi-patterned on Charles Bronson’s part in the original.
Still, while aspects of the old characters have found their way in, no one’s straight-up channeling the originals, and some of them are wholly original, such as Martin Sensmeier as the Comanche Red Harvest, knowingly named after the novel by Dashiell Hammett that was the inspiration for Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO. The seventh man is Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as a Mexican bandit recruited by Washington, who serves as semi comic-relief, but also has a few heavy moments. All seven of them are really good, although probably the best performance outside of Washington’s comes from Haley Bennett. Often used as window-dressing in movies like HARDCORE HENRY, she’s great as a tough widow bent on getting even with Sarsgaard’s diabolical baddie – with the latter going all-out in slime ball mode.
As usual for Fuqua, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is technically impeccable. My only criticism of him in the past is that he tends to shoot his action scenes a little dark, but with most of the action taking place in the daytime here that’s not an issue at all. The shootouts are intense and surprisingly gritty for a PG-13. He doesn’t fall prey to too much CGI carnage – most of the action is kept to shootouts and chases although the vibe is a little more spaghetti western than the more classical John Sturges style of the original MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. It’s also nice that Fuqua managed to work in some score left behind by the late James Horner, which much of it displaying his distinctive sound.
While THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is unabashedly in the blockbuster mode, as always Fuqua and Washington give it that little push that makes it a cut above-average, and had this been a summer release many would have called it one of the season’s best studio movies. Following its TIFF premiere I’ve no doubt it’ll make a mint this fall. And boy oh boy, wouldn’t it be cool is westerns suddenly became in vogue again?
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|Extra Tidbit:||Does anyone else remember the nineties TV show with Michael Biehn?|