Other than a few name changes and the principle action moved from a Mexican village to the fictional American town of Rose Creek, most of what you’ll see in the Antoine Fuqua remake of The Magnificent Seven will seem familiar. Certainly the story’s original framework is there and the overall plot follows the same route taken in 1960 – which, in turn, was a western remake of the ‘54 Japanese film Seven Samurai – but what’s more important is the film’s form; in looks, style and sound it remains true to the big screen, colorful wide frame western of yesterday, and that’s the most welcoming part of all.
“Leave the bodies where they lie,” instructs robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) to the town’s corrupt sheriff. “Let them look at them for a few days.”
Bogue is the bad guy – it’s the Eli Wallach role changed from a killer Mexican bandit to a murderous business opportunist in black – and he wants all of Rose Creek in order to mine the land for gold. He’s a deluded, cowardly fool who sees himself as a hard worker but in the same breath talks of taking what he wants when he wants it at the expense of others. After he and his men casually kill some of the townsfolk gathered peacefully with their families at a church meeting, including the husband of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), the determined young woman leaves Rose Creek on her own accord in search of anyone who could help the small town fight back. She returns with just seven men. “Seems I was the only one with balls to do something,” Emma tells the town when the men question her motives from bringing outsiders in.
The seven are a motley crew of wild west characters that at first glance may seem like an intentional present-day attempt to make the cast as politically correct as possible, but the diverse cultures that make them a magnificent seven actually better reflects the history of the cowboy makeup than many westerns of the past. With the building of the railroads, the use of native Americans as scouts and the fact that there were considerably more black cowboys than reflected in previous films, a gang of available mercenaries hastily thrown together in a pinch may well have looked like this wild bunch of roguish good guys for hire.
Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is the leader who at first advises Emma that she really needs an army, but it’s her passion and the fact that she’s willing to hand over everything she has, every last penny, if only the bounty hunter would help. Chisolm agrees and starts hunting for as many men that he can find. Signing up is gambler and wise-cracking explosives expert, Farraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter haunted by a killer past but possessing a great name, Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a Mexcian outlaw, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Korean assassin, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Comanche, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and a Grizzly Adams type mountain man with a breathless high voice, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). Some will make it, some won’t, but that’s not a plot spoiler; you knew that going in.
Once the seven arrive, they start the process of training locals how to shoot. “I’ve never shot at anything that could shoot back,” states one citizen. Some of the townsfolk pack their wagons and leave, but many remain with nowhere else to go and decide to back the seven and fight.
Since 1960 when the theme of teaming a small group of unlikely types together as a vengeful army was new, the repeated formula has since become common place, and that tends to devalue the remake in a way the John Sturges classic never had to contend. Everything from The Expendables, Suicide Squad, The Dirty Dozen, even Guardians of the Galaxy and Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life have taken that similar setup and ran with it. But it was The Magnificent Seven who did it first. Remaking it with new sensibilities while retaining the look of how films used to be shot (a path the recent Ben-Hur should have taken but didn’t, and as a consequence, failed miserably) a remade Magnificent Seven can never have the same impact with a fresh generation of moviegoers; they’ve seen it all before and many times, though not necessarily in the form of a western. Still, revisiting the seven with director Fuqua’s complete respect for the genre presented in a way that older fans who spent much of their movie-going childhood watching westerns will appreciate, the film can’t help but thrill. The freshness of story may never be repeated, but it remains an engaging and enjoyable venture into a much missed style.
When it comes, the action is fast, furious and violent, shot and edited in the exciting, unfussy way a western always was. During shootouts you can tell where everyone is in relation to each other rather than the more modern, chaotic, free-for-all shot with a hand-held and furiously edited like a faux documentary. It’s backed by a traditional sounding score of the west complete with tubular bells clanging like musical anvils during a tense build-up and a stirring orchestral theme as the cowboys mount and ride to Rose Creek. This was composer James Horner’s final film. He died after writing only half of the film’s score. Avatar scorer and friend to Horner, Simon Franglen completed the soundtrack.
Plus, in case you were wondering, there’s a nod during the final credits to Elmer Bernstein’s original rousing classic 60s theme. Remakes are all well and good, but when it comes to The Magnificent Seven, at the closing fade you need a few bars of Bernstein to complete things. It’s mandatory.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 127 Minutes Overall rating: 8 (out of 10)