The return of the Western continues with this incarnation of The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 John Sturges classic, which was a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa film, Seven Samurai. As one might expect, we’re treading familiar territory here. This time around, director Antoine Fuqua (Shooter, Training Day) sticks to what crowds want: a Rambo-esque body count with some witty one-liners thrown in for good measure. On that level, The Magnificent Seven is passable popcorn entertainment, though this stacked cast deserves a bit more than being practically indestructible participants in a battle that leaves the town’s infrastructure so decimated you wonder who’s going to save the town after it’s been saved.
Set in 1879, the small town of Rose Creek has been invaded by mining mogul Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who’s offered the citizens two options: take his paltry sum of money for their land or deal with the consequences when he returns in three weeks. After Bogue burns down the church and kills the outspoken husband of resident Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) in cold blood, she takes to recruiting a gang of outlaws to save the town. She hires bounty hunter Sam Chisholm (Washington), who then recruits a motley crew including drunken gambler Josh Faraday (Pratt), Civil War sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke), knife-wielding expert Billy Rocks (Lee), mountain man Jack Horne (D’Onofrio), Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Native American warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
For all its crowd-pleasing tendencies, The Magnificent Seven, like many of Fuqua’s offerings, has a mean streak that often jars the action/comedy equilibrium. This is a harsh PG-13, dishing out a blown-up ear, a decapitation, and too many shootings and stabbings to count. Fuqua and his team walk a fine line between camp and unwanted darkness, often getting stuck between the two and hampering the comedic elements. The screenplay, by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto, is needlessly talky, often bringing the proceedings to a screeching halt when someone isn’t committing some kind of violence. That said, Fuqua knows how to shoot large-scale action and demonstrates it in spades here. Refreshingly absent of shaky cam, Fuqua masterfully sets up each battle and never loses track of the territory in which it takes place. The final half hour is some kind of bonkers, culminating in the use of a Gatling gun that ruins the property values for good.
Led by the ever-steady and cool Denzel Washington, the cast is uniformly excellent even when you know these characters could have been fleshed out better. Oddly enough, it’s Chris Pratt that feels like the weak link with an ultra-dry, stoic turn that’s missing the energy he usually brings to the screen. Vincent D’Onofrio is the scene-stealer as the squeaky-voiced Jack Horne, a senior citizen you definitely don’t want to mess with. Overlong and often struggling to balance action and comedy, The Magnificent Seven is an uneven effort with some sensational action. In a year as mediocre as this one, that should get the job done for a lot of moviegoers.
Studio: Sony Pictures Releasing
Length: 132 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.
Theatrical Release: September 23, 2016
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Richard Wenk & Nic Pizzolatto. Based upon the screenplay by Akira Kurosawa & Shinobu Hashimoto & Hideo Oguni.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee