by Michael B. Hock
It’s nice to know that this election season, the one Washington who will never let us down is Denzel.
That’s a terrible joke, but I stand by it.
Remakes are tricky, as we’ve seen from the countless remakes we’re seeing lately. We try to pretend it’s pretty recent, but we tend to forget that Hollywood itself is built on remakes, reboots, and adaptions of familiar material. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of Antonine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, remake from the original Magnificent Seven, but not he remake that appeared on television and itself was remade from the Seven Samurai, he manages to succeed… mostly.
By now you know the story from the very familiar premise: a rich dude, in this case someone who owns the mining rights to a nearby town (Peter Sarsgaard), threatens said town’s safety, offers to pay them a pittance to move, gets the law in their pocket, and kills all of the men who are willing to fight. What is a town to do? They hire Chisolm (Denzel Washington) a “don’t call me bounty hunter” bounty hunter who rounds up six magnificent (ish) people who help defend the town. Among them gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) and Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, looking like he’s in a completely different movie) and a few other guys I’ll get into in a few minutes. Gunplay ensues.
Fuqua is an amazing director. Whatever type of movie he’s directing, he manages to adapt to its style, and this western is no different. Whether he’s scoping the gritty streets in Training Day, or seeking vengeance in the Equalizer, Fuqua is a man who clearly studies his subjects and directs the movie accordingly. It’s no surprise that first and foremost The Magnificent Seven feels like an actual western. There is some clear modern camera work, but much of what you can expect from a western falls into pace here: the trick shooting, the card game, the camera starting at the newcomer’s feet as he walks into the saloon, down to the riding off into the sunset. To me, this adds a lot to the film, taking it from what could have been a remake that sought to take advantage of modern techniques, and instead transformed it into a real throwback.
Less successful are the little moments in the film itself. While this is a highly enjoyable film, it certainly enjoys to meander. The “rounding up the 7” and the “wow these townsfolk are terribly prepared” montages went on a little too long, with little humor to go along. Chris Pratt is charismatic, but by the ninth time he’s obviously calling out a character for his lack of skill in a very un-Chris Pratt like manner, it gets ridiculously old.
Much of this could have been spent filling out the backgrounds of several of the characters, or at least delving deep into the “mysterious backgrounds” of the characters that we we saw. Unfortunately, there are two “mysterious background” characters that need delving into: Washington’s Chisolm, who gets a pretty decent amount exposition at the end, and Goodnight Robicheaux, (Ethan Hawke) who travels with the knife wielding Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Goodnight also has a deep backstory, and it is only touched on briefly. His appearances seem to be set around the idea that violence is bad, almost a counterargument to the story itself which presents violence as the only answer. Now, if that’s the point you’re trying to make, that’s cool, but at some point you have to reconcile the two, or simply present Robicheaux as the character with the terrifying reputation as we first saw him.
These seem like big complaints, and they should be something to take into the movie, but for the most part it was enjoyable. All of the marks were hit: Denzel and Pratt wisecracking their way into battle, trick horseback riding, trick gunshots… it is ultimately a deeply satisfying movie, if not a perfect movie.