Question marks over the validity of Antoine Fuqua’s remake of John Sturges’ 1960 endeavour The Magnificent Seven, which in turn was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s seminal masterpiece Seven Samurai, linger over this hackneyed picture, albeit one that remains engaging for its sheer commitment to the plight of the underdog. The entire film thrives off this sentiment, as a small town fending off a superior force, depending on the help of a bounty hunter to lend a sharp-shooting hand.
Non-Spoiler Review Review
Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the aforementioned saviour, who is approached by
the desperate Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), recently widowed and seeking revenge (or as she puts it, righteousness) on the man who murdered her husband in cold blood, and is driving her the inhabitants of her small town out of their homes. Vying tirelessly for peace, she asks Chisolm if he can assemble a team together to help defend their land, and he instantly recruits the wandering charlatan Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) to commit to their cause.
The pair then go on to persuade outlaws Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) to join their ever-increasing collective, and then Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) get involved, as they prepare for a battle against a far greater foe, seemingly futile battle, with the aim of taking down the malevolent Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) once and for all.
The notion of the underdog illuminates this tale, as not only are the townspeople coming up against an army with far more soldiers, but even the hero himself enforces this sentiment, as a black cowboy in a predominantly white land, instantly on the back foot as the ignorance of the locals is portrayed, such as when we first encounter him in a bar – only for him to be told he isn’t welcome in this establishment. The film does correlate with the real world too, to make for a distinctly perennial tale, of a defenceless area being overtaken by a tyrant, a sad state of affairs which occurs all over the world.
Fuqua holds back somewhat on the brutality though, and while the sound of shotguns being fired rings in your ears long after the film has finished, this is by no means a gory affair. This works well, not only in establishing this feature as an accessible, mainstream endeavour, but also when dealing with such an immensity of deaths. We simply have no choice but to keep up the pace, not allowed the time to linger on each and every fallen man or woman.
But like any good Western, the line between good and evil is suitably blurred, as we’re dealing with a collective of antiheroes, flawed individuals who make for absorbing entry points into this world. A rather less ambiguous character is that of the chief antagonist Bogue, and Sarsgaard turns in a fittingly harrowing display, callous and empty behind the eyes, with no remorse – the perfect villain for a film of this nature, while just about avoiding caricature in the meantime. We also meet him prior to meeting our heroes, allowing us to know what they’re up against even before they are – which is an effective technique in this instance.
However Fuqua’s picture does veer into generic territory in parts, not doing enough to justify this big-screen remake, thriving in the notion of traditionalism in a way that is beneficial at times, and yet detrimental in others. Plus, it feels like a film designed for trailers – with countless witty one-liners, or shots of our heroes twirling guns around in their fingers only to dramatically place them back into the holsters on either side of the protagonist’s hips. Cool it most certainly looks, but original sadly it ain’t, which is frustratingly emblematic of this entire production.