Antione Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is a love letter to cinema where heroes are routinely outnumbered, and disputes settled with pistols at high noon. Some might refer to this as yet another remake in the litany of films that Hollywood has rehashed, but that would be a gross oversimplification. Fuqua doesn’t seek to recreate the magic of the 1960’s classic film; he honors it by creating a thunderous two-hour epic that’s highly engaging while managing to stay faithful to the genre.
If Fuqua had sought to simply do a full on remake of The Magnificent Seven, the results would have been disastrous. How could he recapture the magic of the original film? Even if he did assemble a full cast of A-listers, it wouldn’t nearly reach the standard set by a gritty and rugged Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson. The theme alone is considered to be one of the greatest movie scores of all time and any attempt to “remake” it would be foolish at best.
Now, does this film capture the essence of the original movie? Sure .. the narrative is similar. Only this time the town of Rose Creek is being overrun by a mining company run by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Bouge offers to buy up their land for pennies on the dollar which infuriates Matthew Cullen (Matthew Bomer). Cullen questions Bouge and he answer him back by shooting him in the chest, therein kicking off a mini-massacre. Emma (Haley Bennett) mourns the loss of her husband, but ultimately seeks vengeance. Weeks later, she happens to witness Bounty Hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) take out a whole saloon of people who had guns pointed at his back, and immediately begins to solicit his aide. They reached a deal, but it’s on Chisolm to recruit more men.
He first brings in Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a reckless playboy who uses card tricks to charm his victims before he shoots him. Some might argue that this is just the same Chris Pratt that we see in all of his films, but there’s more here. Beneath the surface of this lighthearted playboy is a slick killer. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his Asian business partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) join the crew with specialties involving knives and a sniper rifle. Goodnight is a former soldier in the Confederate army – who seems to be still dealing with PTSD – and Billy is trying to help him the best he can while trying to survive himself.
Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeir), and Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) round out Chisolm’s crew. Vasquez is a Mexican bandit who has a price on his head who agrees to help Sam in exchange for his freedom. Red Harvest is a Comanche warrior who proves to be very useful in combat. Jack Horne is a Grizzly Adams looking animal tracker who’s a religious nut with a bloodlust.
Obviously, Fuqua wasn’t trying just to cast people who fit certain roles from the previous film (I can’t envision an African American being cast in the lead role of a western in the 60s). He sought to create a certain chemistry and rapport on the screen, and for the most part he pulls off a nice balancing act, giving each of the seven their moments. It’s this type of chemistry that can carry a film even when the narrative is all too familiar.
Nic Pizzolato and Richard Wenk, the screenwriters, do an admirable job crafting a story that is equal parts familiar and focused on the strengths of the ensemble cast. The cinematography is spectacular and the wide shots felt like an apt throwback to CinemaScope Westerns from a bygone era. Mauro Fiore (who’s worked on both Avatar and Training Day) uses plenty of sweeping shots, capturing the beauty of the open plains. These types of wide shots evoke memories of sitting in my Grandfathers living room watching The Outlaw Josey Wales, turning towards him and saying “Haven’t we seen this already?” The film has all those same visual qualities.
The cast all deliver solid performances. Denzel and Chris Pratt are front and center, sure, but what makes this film click is the power of the ensemble. Everyone in the film feeds off of one another. Sometimes it’s not about one person, it’s a team effort, and this team hit all the right notes.