A pleasant surprise emerging at the foot of a woefully disappointing summer, Antoine Fuqua’s (Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer) spirited re-do of the 1960 classic western (itself of course an Old West remake of Akira Kurosawa’s seminal Seven Samurai) benefits from superlative direction and a highly engaging cast of charming rogues.
The year is 1879, and Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett)’s husband is murdered by a ruthless land baron, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who takes control of the mining town Rose Creek. This act of savagery leads Cullen to request the assistance of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) and six men of wavering dispositions he rounds up for the battle (Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier).
These days, most remakes are looked upon with a sure, justifiable disdain, indicative of Hollywood’s cynical laziness, yet the core premise to this movie has become so elemental over the last six decades, recycled well beyond either the Seven Samurai or Magnificent Seven monikers, that it almost feels like each generation deserves their own iteration of the story.
And what a version it is. Eagerly rattling through the checklist that defines most successful blockbusters these days – an ethnically diverse cast, hyper-witty one-liners, slick action and a small sprinkle of pathos – Fuqua’s take on the classic tale does a stellar job cutting to the chase and emphasising its own greatest strengths; the visuals and the effortlessly affable cast.
Opinions on who steals the show are likely to vary wildly; to some, D’Onofrio’s mumbling man-bear might bring too much acting to the table while others will relish his over-the-top delivery; Chris Pratt’s fans will no doubt drink in his Wild West Star-Lord get-up here; and of course, Denzel Washington brings his usual badass swagger in spades. While Garcia-Rulfo and Sensmeier are easily the least well-known of the seven, they nevertheless slot in well and get more than a few moments each to strut their stuff. The lovely Haley Bennett also brings fierce conviction to her vengeful widow role, and is physically impressive in the more demanding ass-kicking aspects of her role later on. Peter Sarasgaard, meanwhile, is a delightful ham as the villain, even if he’s in the movie a surprisingly small amount.
And the action? Fuqua has you covered as expected, delivering a riotously entertaining, balls-to-the-wall third act that delivers payoff beyond expectations. Teaming with regular DP Mauro Fiore, he stages the action with a strong level of coherence – an increasing rarity in tentpole cinema – aided by sharp editing and crisp sound work. The final musical score from the late James Horner also does a terrific job melding vintage nods with something new, and it’s a terrific record to go out on.
As expected, this isn’t a think-piece but rather an effective exercise in tight, outrageous blockbuster entertainment that some of the summer’s most prominent movies could sure borrow a few tricks from.
The Magnificent Seven is in cinemas now