“The Magnificent Seven”
2 hours, 13 minutes
Full disclosure: “The Magnificent Seven” starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen is my favorite western of all time. I’ve seen it probably 20 times. When I was a kid, we had the movie on video disk, a format that was here for such a short time that most people don’t even remember it. (Not laser disc — these were more like an actual record, came in a hard plastic case, and you had to flip the disk over half-way through the movie.) I used to watch it over and over, often times skipping ahead to the climactic battle. It’s safe to say I love this movie.
So, when I heard they were producing a remake, I was a little dubious. On the one hand, there’s no way they can match the original, so why try? On the other hand, “The Magnificent Seven” is, itself, a remake of the classic Japanese film, “The Seven Samurai.” The story has been retold numerous times, from “A Bug’s Life,” to “The Three Amigos” to, as my good friend pointed out to me, “The A-Team.”
So, why not remake it again? I have to say, what the new film lacks in character development and deep story-telling, it makes up for in cool characters and straight up action. I don’t know if it’s magnificent, but it’s pretty good, anyway.
The story goes like this: A really bad guy, this time an evil gold-mine tycoon, takes advantage of a frontier town, using an army of thugs to intimidate all the residents into turning over everything they have. When one courageous town leader is murdered in the street, his widow takes it upon herself to hire gunmen to run off the bandits and leave the town in peace.
First she happens upon Marshal Sam Chisolm, played by Denzel Washington, collecting on a “dead or alive” bounty in small, faraway town. Once Chisolm is on board the rest of the band is recruited — some old friends of Chisolm, some just people that happened into their path. One such is Josh Faraday, a gambler and amateur magician played by Chris Pratt. Faraday has most of the movies laugh lines and, at first glance, is the modern equivalent of McQueen’s Vin character. Wisely, however, I think the filmmakers decided that doing a completely faithful retelling was pointless, so Pratt’s character has a definite dark side that Vin never did.
Also along for the ride are a Mexican outlaw, played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, a sharp-shooter played by Ethan Hawke, a mountain man — Vincent D’Onofrio, an outcast Comanche played by Alaska Native Martin Sensmeier, and a knife expert, played by South Korean star Byung-hun Lee. Together, these seven men must train the townsfolk to defend themselves against all comers. Specifically, against Bart Bogue, played evilly by Peter Saarsgard, and his army of 200 cutthroats.
Both the blessing and the curse of this film come in the characters that make up the titular seven. Pratt’s Faraday, as well as Lee’s Billy Rocks and D’Onofrio’s bearlike Jack Horne are all great characters. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, playing Vasquez reminds me of Antonio Banderas in his prime. And newcomer Sensmeier is excellent in his small role. But there is no character development — only caricature. They’re fun, cool, and certainly entertaining, but missing are the small quiet moments from the original, such as when Steve McQueen’s Vin counsels Brynner’s Chris against getting too close to the farmers, thinking he could put his guns away and live a normal life. Or the beautiful interactions between Charles Bronson and the village children. Little moments like that are hinted at here, but no more than they were parodied in classics like “Three Amigos.”
At the same time, some characters are given too much — not development, so much, as backstory. I don’t need to know everything Sam Chisolm has done throughout his time roaming the west, nor do I need there to be a long, terrible history between him and Bogue. Isn’t saving the innocent enough?
In the original, the idea is that Chisolm and his fellows are trying to make up for the damage they’d done in life by doing a good deed for the poor oppressed people. There’s nothing personal about it, per se. The best character and the one with the most actual development is Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux, a former Confederate sharpshooter with serious PTSD.
Antoine Fuqua, best known for the classic “Training Day” is a supremely competent director when it comes to action films. His movies are, more than anything, solid and watchable. And more than that — rewatchable, which is what “Magnificent Seven” is destined to be.
That said, there are moments — one in particular — where the director goes too far, and it took me out of the movie. Let’s just say that, although I know it’s a requirement in any modern western to bring out the Gatling gun at some point, I doubt firing one from a mile away would do much good.
Nitpicks aside, I really enjoyed this movie despite its flaws. As a friend keeps telling me, “you can’t compare the two,” and he’s right. If you look at this new film as just another in a long line of homages to a classic film, you’ll have a magnificent time. Or, at least a pretty good one.
“The Magnificent Seven” is rated PG-13 for wall-to-wall wild west violence.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.