by Coop Cooper
In a Hollywood bloated with remakes, only a few seem like a good idea. Take the recent remake of “The Magnificent Seven” for example. The original 1960 western was actually a remake itself. “Seven Samurai” (1954) was the true original film which has been remade many times, even into a space opera – “Battle Beyond the Stars” (1980). For a classic property that has been remade so many times, it’s hard to blame a studio for attempting to update the western version of it again, especially when it looks as good as this one.
In the California town of Rose Creek, robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his small army terrorizes the locals in an attempt frighten them away from their homesteads so he can have legal claim to their land for gold mining. After a particularly brutal demonstration of force, Bogue offers the townspeople an ultimatum: He’ll give them twenty dollars for each parcel of land or he will finish them off when he returns in three weeks. Young widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) travels to the next town to find gunfighters and runs across seasoned warrant officer, Chisolm (Denzel Washington), and scoundrel gambler, Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt).
Agreeing to the job, Chisolm and Faraday assemble five more to their crew… the bounty hunter, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); quick-draw artist, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); disgraced ex-Confederate sharpshooter, Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke); mountain man/tracker, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and outcast Commanche warrior, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). After the seven seizes the town from the corrupt sheriff, they realize the odds are against them and that only decent men would stay and fight.
The casting is pretty spot-on here and they play the character types you would expect of them. Denzel is the highly-skilled leader, Pratt is the comic relief/Han Solo-type, D’Onofrio is the weird-yet-likable religious guy, Lee is an intimidating and unbeatable killer, etc… I wish some of the characters had gotten more development. A few of them join the team a little too easily and almost with no motivation for doing so.
The well choreographed and exciting action isn’t reserved only for the final battle. Most characters get their own little action scene introduction and one of the best battles of the movie happens when the seven first arrive in Rose Creek, displaying how effective they can be as a team.
The film does suffer from the typical, over-used western tropes. There is a lot of shooting without reloading. The good guys kill way too often by throwing knives and tomahawks at long distances. The filmmakers even overestimate what a Gatling gun is capable of, especially at a distance well over 100 yards. Plus, the good guys never miss a shot. Never. But that’s not to say it’s all predictable. There are a couple of surprises as to who survives in the end.
Filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I noticed some recognizable faces I have met at both local film festivals and Mississippi productions. Actors Ritchie Montgomery, Ed Lowry, Jackson Beals and Miles Doleac – all from bordering states (or Mississippi in the case of Doleac) – had solid, supporting roles and it’s encouraging to see that good, Southern actors can score substantial parts in major Hollywood films shot in the region.
Despite all the death and destruction, director Anton Fuqua keeps the tone light and comedic, much like “Silverado” (1985), for the majority of the film. It honors the original but updates the action and modern style. It is sure to be a crowd-pleaser to both young and older audiences alike.
Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5 stars