The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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The Magnificent Seven  (2016)    MGM-Columbia/Western-Action    RT: 133 minutes    Rated PG-13 (extended and intense sequences of Western violence, some language, suggestive material)    Director: Antoine Fuqua    Screenplay: Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk    Music: James Horner and Simon Franglen    Cinematography: Mauro Fiore    Release date: September 23, 2016 (US)    Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Peter Sarsgaard, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Luke Grimes, Jonathan Joss, Cam Gigandet, Emil Beheshti, Mark Ashworth, Sean Bridgers, Billy Slaughter.

 

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 I was worried about The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 western that itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. I recently rewatched John Sturges’ classic oater with its power cast that includes Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Eli Wallach. It’s one of my favorite westerns. I was trepidatious about Antoine Fuqua’s remake starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard. It has good actors but they’re hardly on the same level of awesomeness as the stars of the original movie. Also, it’s a remake. They’re rarely as good as the original movies. In fact, they’re rarely any good at all. It turns out that The Magnificent Seven is one of those rare exceptions. While not as good as the original, it IS a damn good movie! All my worrying was for naught.

 It’s the same premise as the original movie; seven unlikely heroes band together to protect defenseless townspeople against a despicable villain. The storyline, however, is completely different. The town of Rose Creek lives in fear of Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard, Black Mass), an evil industrialist that wants to steal the people’s land so he can mine for gold. In the opening scenes, he burns down the town church and murders several innocent people in the street before threatening to return in three weeks to take what he thinks should be his.

 magnificent-sevenEmma Cullen (Bennett, The Equalizer), recently widowed by Bogue, goes to a nearby town to seek help. It’s there that she meets Sam Chisolm (Washington, Training Day), a bounty hunter who rides into town and kills the local bartender, also a wanted killer. At the same bar is Josh Farraday (Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy), a gambler with a knack for card tricks which he uses to distract anybody trying to kill him over old debts. Emma hires Sam who, in turns, recruits Josh by buying back his horse from the fellow he lost it to the previous night. That’s two so far. The other five are Goodnight Robicheaux (Training Day co-star Hawke), a sharpshooter and former soldier with PTSD; his right-hand guy Billy (Lee, The Good, the Bad, the Weird), an expert with blades; Jack Horne (D’Onofrio, Law & Order: CI), a trapper described as “a bear in human clothing”; Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Sensmeier) and Vasquez (Rulfo), a Mexican outlaw who Sam agrees to stop hunting if he joins his group of men. There you have it, your new Magnificent Seven.

 They arrive in town where they immediately make their intentions clear by mowing down all of Bogue’s men including several corrupt lawmen. In all, they kill about 22 baddies. Sam orders the sheriff to Sacramento to tell Bogue what took place. This means they have about seven days to prepare for his return, most likely with a huge army to back him up. The M7 train the townspeople to shoot guns and help them set traps for their enemy’s imminent return.

 The western genre has had a rough time of it lately. For every hit like the True Grit remake and Django Unchained, there’s a bomb like Cowboys & Aliens and The Lone Ranger. Even The Hateful Eight, directed by Quentin Tarantino, didn’t live up to box office expectations. I hope that The Magnificent Seven will pull the genre out of its slump. It’s a good old-fashioned shoot-‘em-up in the tradition of the classics with a modern slant courtesy of Fuqua. For one thing, Emma takes an active role in the proceedings unlike the helpless school marms and ranch wives that were once a staple of such movies. She’s offended when it’s suggested she look after the children while the men fight the climactic battle.

 The action scenes are exceptionally well-orchestrated. Fuqua wisely decides not to go with the frenzied quick-cut editing that has become so fashionable in today’s action movies. The action is easy to follow and the violence plentiful. Some expressed disappointment when The Magnificent Seven got a PG-13 instead of an R but let me assure you that it definitely skirts the bounds of its rating. It’s not bloody but the body count is very high. The climactic battle is AWESOME!

 As for the cast, they do a good job. I didn’t expect anything like the original line-up; such a thing doesn’t happen anymore. Long gone are the days of old school tough guys (with the exception of Jason Statham). However, Fuqua still managed to assemble a solid bunch. Washington plays his character as the strong and silent type which doesn’t allow his natural charm and charisma to shine through. It reminds us that he has incredible range as an actor though. Pratt plays his part with a wink and a smile. He’s every bit the wise ass as Star-Lord. Hawke shows depth as a man still haunted by guilt over his deeds during the Civil War. As the villain, Sarsgaard is perfectly hateful. If only he twirled his moustache a few times, the picture would be complete. He is evil incarnate!

 Some regard Fuqua as a hack but I disagree. For the most part, I like his movies- e.g. Training Day, Shooter, The Equalizer and Southpaw. I’ll even cop to The Replacement Killers and Olympus Has Fallen. The Magnificent Seven ranks among his best. I really like this movie a lot. It has lots of action, heroes to root for and villains to boo and hiss. There are a few nods to the original movie including Pratt retelling McQueen’s “so far, so good” anecdote. The score by the late James Horner (his last) augments the excitement. I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed The Magnificent Seven. It’s not the same as the original but it’s a great companion piece. I think both Sturges and Kurosawa would approve. 

 

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