Fifty-four years since the release of the original classic western, “The Magnificent Seven” has become the next high-budget remake pushed out by Hollywood, following other recent releases “Ghostbusters” and “Ben-Hur.” One of the defining traits of these movies seems to be forgoing the depth and underlying themes of the originals, in favor of action-packed spectacles that draw audiences into theaters. “The Magnificent Seven,” though not without redeeming qualities, unfortunately falls into this trap.
At the very least, this particular remake has the talents of director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Shooter”), and the considerable star power of its ensemble cast led by Denzel Washington as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm. Peter Sarsgaard plays the oh-so-hateable villain Bartholomew Bogue, the man responsible for the oppression and exploitation of the small town of Rose Creek. After Bogue kills Matthew Cullen, a local farmer, Cullen’s wife Emma (Haley Bennett) hires Chisolm and the rest of the Seven to defend the town.
Most of the Seven were lacking character dimension. Chris Pratt’s Josh Faraday is funny and reminiscent of every other charming rogue the actor’s played in the last three years, though I’m certain I heard him drop that southern accent he was attempting a few times throughout the movie. Garcia-Rulfo’s Vazquez is practically a non-character, and I was honestly confused as to why he was even asked to join the Seven. D’Onofrio’s performance as frontiersmen Jack Horne was at first jarringly odd, as the actor affects a high warble instead of his normally gravelly baritone. But as the movie went on, his performance grew on me, adding humor through his portrayal of the gentle giant. Washington gives the strongest performance of the movie by far, suitably filling the shoes left empty by the original movie’s star, Yul Brynner.
It’s perfectly fine to shuffle settings and character names, as long as the original themes of the story stay intact. In the case of the original films, the themes included sacrifice without recognition or reward, and the self-destructive nature of the members of the Seven themselves. But Fuqua’s version fails to capture much of that original power; he chooses instead to sum everything up in a sappy final monologue.
What I was most bothered by was how the writers of the movie seemed to change the the motivations for the villain. In the original, the villain Calvera is almost as desperate and hungry as the starving villagers, having to raid the town to feed his men. The conflict wasn’t so black and white. In the new film, Bogue is just evil, which detracted from his effectiveness as a villain, despite Peter Sarsgaard’s entertaining portrayal.
If the remake outdoes the original in anything at all, it’s the amount and intensity of action portrayed onscreen. The last twenty or so minutes is a non-stop ultra-violent gunfight that actually had some surprise character deaths for me, and is honestly one of the best directed action sequences I’ve seen in the last few years.
The movie absolutely delivers on its action-filled premise of seven outsiders against an army with bombastic enthusiasm, but in doing so, it dashes the chances of preserving the powerful underlying themes of both the original western and the classic Kurosawa film.
RATING: 3.5 stars