Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard
Written by: Richard Wenk, Nic Pizzlatto, (based on the screenplay) Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni
Running Time: 133 mins
Release date: 23rd September 2016
A few weeks back we had the laboured and incredibly dull remake of Ben-Hur. Now another great from the cinema of the 50s and 60s has been brought back into play, this time, the classic western, The Magnificent Seven, which was, itself, a remake of the Akira Kurosawa film, The Seven Samurai. Updated to include some politically correct diversity in the cast, this has the good sense of being far more entertaining than Ben-Hur even tried to be.
A small farming community is being bullied by gold-hungry Bartholomew Bogue and his group of would-be lawmen. After losing her husband, Emma Cullen goes in search of help and finds it in bounty hunter, Chisolm. Persuaded to take on Bogue, Chisolm assembles a group of men to help the town, even though the odds are a little more in Bogue’s favour.
Director Antoine Fuqua has decided to turn to the original source material, the Kurasawa film rather than the 60’s western, to take the basis of his modern revision, even though this is a western through and through. Instead of allowing the seven to be full blooded white men, his version is more diverse: a Commanche Indian, an Asian man, a Mexican and a black man, as well as allowing a woman to get involved with the action. There are moments when this doesn’t quite work but most of the time, you tend to forget.
The politics of the film are very much of the time, although as Chisolm rides through town trying to gather a band of soldiers to fight with him, it does occasionally feel like you are watching Blazing Saddles but without the laughs. Having said that, when Chisolm finally gets his gang in place, it’s like watching a bizarre western version of the X-Men, each with their own special skills (a gambler, a bounty hunter, a sharp shooter, a tracker, a killer, a knife expert and a Native American).
Even though Fuqua has given a modern twist to the tale, the film seems somewhat old fashioned. This has all the western cliches lined up and ready to be ticked off. We get the gunfights, horse riding, dark shadows, cigar-smoking, saloons with swinging doors, even a piano player who stops when Chisolm enters! It has a total respect for the genre and allows modern audiences to appreciate it. I’m a huge fan of the genre and so I was very happy to watch these cliches being revisited.
Where the film does fall down slightly is the characters. They are never fully fleshed out and so we never know a great deal about them. Denzel Washington as Chisolm has the swagger of a man who is comfortable with a gun in his hand but can also calm matters down with a word or town, certainly doesn’t look out of place on a horse but you did keep thinking of Bart from Mel Brooks’s classic comedy. Chris Pratt as the gambler seems to be trying too hard to replicate Clint Eastwood and never reaches the coolness of Steve McQueen, while Peter Sarsgaard as Bogue perfectly underplays his villain role.
Yet it is Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio who steal the film. Hawke, as the sharpshooter with issues, brings a level of humanity to the proceedings. His is the most detail of characters, a man feared by many yet living on that legend, while D’Onofrio as a giant tracker, described as “a bear in man’s clothes” wins the comedy award.
Not a patch on either of the originals, this is a great big epic western with a terrifically choreographed finale. It’s great to see a western back on the big screen, using the wonderment of the New Mexico backdrop to superb use. If you decide to see this, go and see it on the biggest screen possible to really capture the beauty of the scenery while enjoying a thoroughly entertaining slice of cinema and stay for the closing credits, where you will hear the now legendary theme tune to the 60’s western in all its glory and get cold shivers down your spine. Not magnificent but pretty darn good.