The Magnificent Seven (12A)
Running time 2hr 13mins
HOLLYWOOD will always make – and remake – Westerns. If modern audiences sometimes see them as outdated, Hollywood sees them as vital. And that The Magnificent Seven topped the box office during its first weekend of release in the US proves Hollywood right.
Set on the frontier, pitting wilderness against civilisation, the Western provides the perfect backdrop against which to explore the tensions between the developed world and the natural world, as well as issues of morality, racism and sexism. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur, The Equalizer, Southpaw) dutifully picks up the reins on Hollywood’s latest remake of a
classic, The Magnificent Seven – itself a 1960 remake of Akira Kurosawa’s celebrated 1954 Japanese-language masterpiece Seven Samurai.
And while he toes the Hollywood line in many ways in his update of a much-loved slice of Americana, he’s crucially addressed the burning issue of casting against ethnicity in his choice of actors. Denzel Washington leads in the role of Sam Chisolm – a lone bounty hunter with a secret score to settle. Picking up supporting roles are Byung-hun Lee as South Korean knife maestro Billy Rocks, Native Alaskan actor Martin Sensmeier as Comanche bowman Red Harvest and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Mexican gunslinger Vasquez. The cast is rounded out with Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt and Vincent D’Onofrio. Fuqua’s ending alone, which sees three key characters riding off together into the wilderness, should mean this film is applauded.
The nuts and bolts of the plot are mostly left alone. When the small frontier mining town of Rose Creek is attacked and taken over by savage and remorseless industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his men, one angry resident, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) wants to take back what’s theirs.The town is full of peaceful folk, however, so she looks to Chisolm
for help. Gathering what money she can to offer him in exchange for his protection, Chisolm accepts and sets about assembling a team of outlaws and guns for hire to lend their able hands.
The seven mercenaries rally the townspeople to fight alongside them and together they make a stand. Ultimately, it becomes less about the money and more about righteousness, revenge and kinship. The first half of the film is spent setting up for the final showdown we know is coming. We see the initial invasion of Rose Creek and the events that spark the uprising, followed by the one-by-one recruitment of the magnificent seven. By the time the final battle arrives, we’re as ready for it as the townsfolk are, with their best laid plans of defence.
Fuqua brings his signature style to the film – a stark, washed-out look and an unflinching brutality that seems to exceed its 12A certificate.You might criticise his characterisation – few of the roles are fleshed out, and even Denzel Washington’s
backstory is given just a fleeting nod at the end after having been dangled in front of us carrot-style for the rest of the time.
But these people aren’t necessarily supposed to be individuals – they’re representative of everymen, and exist to tell us that no matter our flaws or past mistakes, if you keep your morals intact, you’ll prevail. They’re a bunch whose physical strength is matched by mental toughness; their cast-iron will inspires a town to rise up and come together to defend their home.
A score by James Horner and Simon Franglen is conspicuously manipulative, aggressively pushing itself to the fore. A subtler approach might have better served the story, although it’s difficult to compete with Elmer Bernstein’s famous original soundtrack; his main theme even plays out over the end credits.
It’s never easy to make a success of a remake, particularly if it’s a cinema classic. Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven is flawed, but it’s a thrilling and climactic take for a new, contemporary audience.