There are many reasons to want to send The Magnificent Seven, a reboot of the classic 1960 Western, to the hoosegow.
First of all, it’s a remake of a film that itself was a riff on yet another classic, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece, The Seven Samurai. And, beyond these templates, it tells a story that is as old as forever: A group of townspeople oppressed under a tyrant’s thumb find salvation and revenge in a stranger.
To paraphrase the old Bob Dylan song, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way this wind is blowing. But you do need a director and cast who can make these predictable elements seem, if not completely fresh, then at least engaging enough to make it worth the effort to spend more than two hours with them.
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Southpaw, The Equalizer), along with stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio, manage to do this, updating the story with the crackle of the contemporary without sacrificing the basic plot’s lean, compelling simplicity.
It’s the post-Civil War West and the town of Rose Creek is in a bad way. Robber baron and capitalist caricature Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his minions have seized control, stealing people’s land at gun point and operating a mine on the edge of town that is fueled by forced labor.
After he kills a few men who stand up to him, two townsfolk — Emma (Haley Bennett) and Teddy (Luke Grimes) — seek help elsewhere. They find it in Sam Chisholm (Washington), a quiet, cool bounty hunter who doesn’t like to be called a bounty hunter, and a few friends he rounds up for the occasion.
Think of them as the Knights of the Round Table but with sagebrush and diversity: charming goofball Josh Faraday (Pratt), former Confederate soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke), Asian knife master Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), aging Indian-fighter Jack Horne (D’Onofrio), Mexican gunslinger Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and American Indian warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
While this might strike some viewers as being too modern-day and multicultural, it’s an acknowledgment that the American West was populated by a variety of colors and peoples. Some of them may have been escaping an ugly past elsewhere, as is brought home in Chisholm’s character and two of his key interactions with Bogue and Robicheaux. (Chisholm’s backstory probably would make a more interesting, and original, film.)
Fuqua, working from a script by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk (The Equalizer), is less successful at ramping up the humor. That job is left mostly to Pratt and while some of his one-liners work, others fall flat.
On the other hand, Fuqua is an expert at action scenes and the final, very violent confrontation — which takes up much of the back half of the film — is dizzyingly well-choreographed. And, as with The Equalizer, Washington’s commanding presence helps elevate what otherwise might be ordinary.
Ultimately, while The Magnificent Seven remains stubbornly in the shadows of its predecessors, it still manages to hit its target.
The Magnificent Seven
☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, Cam Gigandet, Byung-hun Lee
Rated: PG-13 (extended and intense sequences of Western violence, historical smoking, strong language, suggestive material)
Running time: 132 min.