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The Magnificent Seven (2016) - Review

The Magnificent Seven

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

GIVEN the iconic status that surrounds John Sturges’s original Magnificent Seven it seemed like a folly to be remaking such a classic. But Antoine Fuqua, reuniting with Denzel Washington for a third time, has done a much better job than expected in bringing these gunslingers back to the screen.

By no means a classic, the remake is nevertheless an entertaining romp; one that is more content to pay homage to the Westerns that inspired it rather than bringing anything new to the genre.

So while the missed opportunities do tend to stack up and there are some intriguing and/or curious creative decisions at various points, this plays well enough to fans of the genre and perhaps even more so to anyone who has yet to see the 1960 film from which it is derived (and which was, in itself, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai.

The new-look cast acquit themselves well, and sometimes very well in the case of its principals: Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. The action is slickly directed and even reminiscent of another classic Western practitioner, Sam Peckinpah, while there is enough of an emotional investment to make you care about the fate of the seven, unlike some more recent blockbusters which continually defy the ‘suicide’ or ‘expendable’ nature of their premise.

The story remains largely the same, albeit tweaked to represent more contemporary villains. When a ruthless tyrant named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) places a farming community at risk, a widow (Haley Bennett) approaches Washington’s no-nonsense lawman Sam Chisolm to help rid her town of Bogue and his murdering henchmen.

Chisolm subsequently rounds up his magnificent seven, who are comprised of Chris Pratt’s card shark Josh Faraday, Ethan Hawke’s lethal marksman Goodnight Robicheaux and his knife-wielding partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vincent D’Onofrio’s former Indian hunter Jack Horne , Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Mexican bandit Vasquez and Martin Sensmeier’s renegade Native American Red Harvest.

Of the criticisms surrounding the film, the multi-cultural make-up of this new seven is primary among them, given that there is little attention paid to any possible tensions between them. Rather, they are only hinted at. And while it’s nice to have a woman leading the villagers in their revolt against tyranny, Fuqua’s camera does tend to linger a little too long on Bennett’s unbuttoned top, while her portrayal – for all of its feistiness – does also flit between empowered and woman in need of rescue.

Fuqua’s decision to tip his hat to classic Westerns of the past also proves fun but frustrating. It’s fun in the sense that you can reward yourself for spotting the references (Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and High Plains Drifter are given visual nods, while the raw style of Sergio Leone also looms large at several points). But while many of those Westerns had something to say about the genre, or the times in which they were made, Fuqua’s film is less complex, unless you take Hawke’s insistence that Bogue represents Donald Trump at his word.

Indeed, Sarsgaard’s villain is another problem. Imposing at first, he disappears for long periods and returns seemingly high and disinterested, lacking either the charisma or complexity of Eli Wallach’s Mexican bandit in the original.

And talking of the 1960 film, Fuqua does revisit that film directly on several occasions, whether quoting back lines verbatim, copying the odd scene (James Coburn’s knife versus gun fight is revisited) or toying with Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score, before dropping it properly over the end credits. It’s a curious decision that proves diverting at times.

For all of its obvious faults, however, The Magnificent Seven does entertain. Washington’s Chisolm remains the epitome of cool and even comes with a mysticism surrounding him that’s more reminiscent of classic Eastwood anti-heroism, while Pratt’s cheeky wit, coupled with a dark heart, make for an interesting variation on the Steve McQueen role he is inhabiting.

Hawke’s Robicheaux is another interesting character, and it’s nice to see him and Washington sharing the odd scene for the first time since Training Day, while both Byung-hun Lee and D’Onofrio have a certain amount of fun with their characters despite limited opportunity.

The climactic gunfight – a curious mix of Saving Private Ryan‘s last stand, as directed in the style of Peckinpah – is also well choreographed and suitably unpredictable (you won’t necessarily guess who survives), while Mauro Fiore’s cinematography demands a big screen.

There’s a lot to admire in Fuqua’s film, which emerges as a genuine guilty pleasure. In a summer filled with remakes, reboots, sequels and superheroes that have more often than not disappointed, Fuqua has delivered a classic style of filmmaking that crowd-pleases without blowing you completely away.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 131mins
UK Release Date: September 23, 2016