Fuqua’s “Magnificent Seven” Revamps Classic Western

By Scott Kurland 
Film: The Magnificent Seven
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Haley Bennett, and Peter Sarsgaard
Rated: PG-13
Director: Antoine Fuqua

I love Westerns. Next to Blaxploitation films of the 70s , Westerns are my favorite film genre. I think it’s because Westerns are America’s version of the Samurai film. Don’t get me wrong, I love Samurai films just as much, but lawless cowboys are cooler to me than masterless Ronins. In my opinion, the greatest Western of all time is the original “The Magnificent Seven”. John Sturges directed one hell of a love letter to Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”, and he made it his own. Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn just barely touch the surface of how great that film is. This week’s film is Antoine Fuqua’s version of  “The Magnificent Seven”. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?

In this new version of “The Magnificent Seven,” we see a small town under the rule of an industrialist named Bartholomew Brogue (Peter Sarsgaard). When Brogue hardens his grip on the town and it's people, one widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) searches for hired guns willing to help. What she gets is seven gifted marksmen (Washington, Pratt, Hawke, D’Onofrio, Lee, Garcia-Rulfo, Sensmeier) to come into town and help fight back. Can the Magnificent Seven, rally the town in time to face Brogue? Or are these outlaws out of their element?

There was no way to prevent this film from being remade. It was always inevitable considering it has been in development for over a decade. With that said, I still love the original more. I mean, that’s a given. This film had a decent first hour, but then, like all Antoine Fuqua films, it falls flat in the last forty-five minutes. I can pinpoint the beginning of its decline as it occurs right before the film’s climatic final battle. The assembling of the seven was very clever and a great spin on the original film. Yet, I had problems with some of the new spins they added. In the original movie, the villains are Mexican bandits….played by Yiddish theater actors in make-up. What can you do? It was the 60s and Eli Wallach was huge.In this film, the villains are industrialists. For me, that commentary on big-business-taking-out-the-little-guy is too on the nose. With the lead villain being a poor Mexican Bandit in the original, it showed us that bullies don't necessarily need money or social standing to acquire power. They also countered that by having Charles Bronson play a mexican farmer who becomes a heroic gunslinger. They try doing something similar in this new film with Native Americans, but it’s too little too late. Also Peter Sarsgaard plays a great villain, but he looks sick the entire movie. He is pale, sweating profusely, and looks like he has food poisoning. Appearances aside, Sarsgaard does a good job, even if he is a metaphor for a greedy and corrupt corporate America.

What makes the film enjoyable is the performances of the seven. Washington does fill Brenner’s shoes well, and adds an  urgency that wasn’t present in the original. I mean, it’s Denzel Washington we’re talking about. That man’s smoldering intensity can be seen from the space station.  If Washington is Brenner’s equal, Pratt is worthy of wearing McQueen’s boots. No matter what the role is, Pratt always delivers 110%. His character Josh Faraday is half Steve McQueen and half Starlord from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The rest of the cast has their moments as well. Hawke is his classic cocky self. Byung-Hun Lee is mysterious and plays the James Coburn role well. The most enjoyable role next to Pratt and Washington was Vincent D’Onofrio doing his best Burl Ives from “Big Country” . D’Onofrio was an odd casting choice, but he does a lot with the role.

Even though the performances were strong, and the first hours was decent, I can’t really recommend “The Magnificent Seven”. The changes they made to the original film are too drastic to look past. They killed characters who were supposed to live, and vice versa. They tried to create a strong female character in Haley Bennet’s Emma, but she always felt like a damsel in distress the entire time. “The Magnificent Seven” was a nice effort, but fell short and reminds us why the original will always be one of the greatest Westerns of all time. Save your money and wait to see “The Magnificent Seven”.

scott kurlandComment