It’s no surprise that Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua would work together again on a new project. They certainly struck gold with the popular and the acclaimed “Training Day”. But I have to admit I was a bit surprised at their latest creative endeavor. I’m not sure why though. After all this is the age of remakes, reboots, reimaginings, re-everything else.
Their newest collaboration is “The Magnificent Seven”, a modern action crowdpleaser anchored by a fun ensemble cast. The original 1960 Western classic was based on Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai”. This updated film tends to pull further away from its roots but never so far as to lose its identity. It embraces the basics of the story while adding in a few details of its own. And as expected it attempts to do everything bigger most notably the furious wild western action.
If you haven’t seen the 1960 Western, Yul Brynner led a hired band of misfits to protect a small Mexican village from a gang of violent bandits. In Fuqua’s version the Mexican village is exchanged for a small mining town named Rose Creek and Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue is the vile industrialist terrorizing them. Washington takes Brynner’s spot. He plays Sam Chisolm who is approached by a young woman from Rose Creek (Haley Bennett) seeking help.
Sam agrees but first he’ll need a team of gunfighters to train the townsfolk and lead the defense against Bogue and his gang. His merry band of wild west outcasts includes a boozing gambler (Chris Pratt), an ex-confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), a deadly assassin (Byung-hun Lee), a wanted Mexican bandit (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a big burly tracker (Vincent D’Onofrio), and a disillusioned Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier).
Fuqua, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk do a good job of building a fun camaraderie between their characters. It’s one of the film’s key ingredients since it genuinely wants to be a buddy-cowboy picture. There is plenty of playful banter, ribbing, and jests but never too much. That’s because it’s also aiming for something more – an old school western.
Watching the movie I couldn’t help but feel a little bit nostalgic. Fuqua tips his Stetson to a number of classic western angles both narratively and visually. His use of the camera is fantastic (great cinematography from another “Training Day” alumni Mauro Fiore) and the score features some of the last work of the late great James Horner. And you’ll clearly notice Fuqua channeling from an assortment of western directors from John Ford to Sergio Leone.
Expect some fierce and energetic action especially in the inevitable final showdown (which is especially fun). Following a familiar blueprint each character is given their moment to show off their gun-twirling, knife throwing, or dynamite-chunking. What you won’t see is any deeper sense of emotional struggle between these characters. We get glimpses of it especially from one specific character but never enough to divert it from its clear desire to be a straightforward action film.
That leaves “The Magnificent Seven” open to reasonable criticism. It’s not a deep contemplative character study or emotionally heavy drama. It certainly misses some opportunities to incorporate those elements which may have made it a better film. But I’m fine with it since that isn’t what this film is aiming to be. It’s an action romp and Denzel and company pull it off nicely. They are clearly having a blast doing it and I must say I did too.
VERDICT – 4 STARS