The Magnificent Seven

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 23, 2016

'The Magnificent Seven'
'The Magnificent Seven'  

Remakes often turn out to be bad ideas, but what about a remake of a remake?

The John Sturges-directed 1960 film "The Magnificent Seven" is, of course, one of the essential entries into the genre of the American Western. But it was also a Hollywoodization of "The Seven Samurai," made six years earlier, an equally essential entry in a much smaller (but no less esteemed) corpus of work, that of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Now we have a fresh take on the Western version of the tale, thanks to the good offices of director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Southpaw"). (As if all that weren't enough, there's also a remake of "The Seven Samurai" reportedly "in development.")

In each case, the essential story remains the same. Poor, plain townsfolk -- the people who do the work and get precious little back in terms of power or money -- are terrorized by a band of thugs. They turn to roving do-gooders for help.

If the basic premise is unchanged, the particulars are pretty much totally reinvented. In this instance, the head thug is an oily capitalist named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the kind of monomaniacal money-grubber who readily compares Gold to God while standing in the village church where the terrified settlers have come to huddle. He owns the mining operation that's blasting the bejesus out of the surrounding hills, and now he wants the land these simple farmers have taken under cultivation. At his beck and call are armies of gun-toting henchmen, but he doesn't need them for additional cruelty. He's quite cruel enough, shooting a man in the street for daring to question him (before setting the church ablaze for good measure). All he needs his private mercenaries for is their numbers, and -- like any good villain -- he seems to conjure them up in quantity.

But two of the townsfolk are determined to fight back -- one of them being Emma (Haley Bennett), the widow of the man Bogue guns down in the film's opening moments. Knowing they won't have any luck turning the local residents into an effective army, Emma and Teddy (Luke Grimes) head out to hire a gunslinger of their own on behalf of the beleagured town, and soon enough they have him: A fellow name Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who operates on the fringes of the law, tracking down wanted men. Chisolm, it turns out, has reasons of his own for wanting Bogue, and he's not about to let any army of mercenaries stop him.

But Chisolm does need some help that's handy with guns, knives, and other weapons, so he begins gathering friends and allies. Some are coaxed into service, like the card-sharp and wise guy Faraday (Chris Pratt), a man who claims to be the world's greatest lover, but who also, regrettably, suffers from a wide streak of racism. Others are sent for, like former Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his Asian colleague Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). They seem willing enough to throw in with Chisolm.

So do others, whom the steadily growing band picks up along the way: A Mexican gunslinger named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) signs on within moments of meeting Chisolm; so does a young Sioux man called Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), who, evidently, was dispatched by wise tribal elders (or maybe he was just sent by Fate) to help out. Then there's the lumbering, but unstoppable, Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio); though he has no particular reason to be interested in their quest, he joins in, because, why not?

This is a far cry from the 1960 crew of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and Brad Dexter -- a group of white men, if you will, who lay it on the line to defend a village of poor folks South of the border. It's refreshing to see that the old patriarchal norms are being reset here, but on the other hand the mix feels as calculated as an advertisement. What we have here comes across as The United Colors of the Wild West.

Make that "The Wild, Wild West." For some reason, wisecracking Faraday is also a pretty good magician, doing card tricks and seemingly plucking guns out of the air. It's flashy, but really?

Much in this retread has that same quality. The movie is tasseled and ornamented with modern-sounding lines of dialogue ("I sense some bonding!") and action-movie stratagems that work to sustain interest, but feel anachronistic. (And when I say they work to sustain interest, unfortunately, that's exactly what I mean.)

The film boasts a score credited to the late James Horner (who previously scored Fuqua's film "Southpaw") and Simon Franklin (who presumably picked up where Horner left off). The score is filled with instantly recognizable Horner motifs, and teases the famed theme to the 1960 version right up until the closing credits, which is where the familiar old theme comes in at full gallop. But I have to confess that wen I came strolling out of the screening I was whistling quite a different tune: The comedy song "Along Came Jones." (The Ray Stevens version, mind you.) As sleek as this remake might be, it amounts to "the same old shoot-em-up and the same old rodeo."

Stylistically, this is a fun, if fluffy, movie -- broadly realized and often absurd. In other words, it its the bill for its particular sub-genre of the action-adventure Western. What it lacks is true panache. This "Seven" won't be galloping to classic film status.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.