September 26, 2016
The original Magnificent Seven was an noted 1960 American Western film directed by John Sturges. It was adapted from an acclaimed "Seven Samurai" (1954) by Akira Kurosawa. Transposed to the wild wild American West, from the plot about a ragtag group of seven gunfighters hired by villagers to protect them from bandits down to the number of men who survive at the end of the final battle was basically similar to the Japanese classic. This story device of recruiting various members for a group mission is very familiar in film and television, from "The A-Team" to the "Justice League".
Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen were already stars upon the release of this film, but the other members of the seven, notably Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn, also achieve stardom afterwards. The most memorable aspect of this film, even for those who have not seen it, is the very recognizable musical score by Elmer Bernstein, which had been used to great effect in old Marlboro cigarette commercials since 1963, as well as other films. This score lost the Oscar to "Exodus" that year, but it remains to be iconic to the present time.
It was the 1870s, and Rose Creek was a town in crisis. A ruthless businessman named Bartholomew Bogue wants to buy out everyone in order to gain control of the goldmines in the mountains around the town. The widow of one of Bogue's victims, Emma Cullen, sought to solicit the uncommon killing talent of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm to help them get Bogue out of their town.
African-American Chisolm gathered himself a group of mercenaries of varied fighting skills to help him with the big and dangerous task at hand. They were: an alcoholic gambler Josh Faraday, a rifle sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, an Asian virtuoso with knives Billy Rocks, a bear-like tracker Jack Horne, a Mexican outlaw Vasquez, and a Comanche archer Red Harvest. Together they go to Rose Creek and prepare the town for battle.
Of course, the gunfights were all still there, but the scale multiplied several times over in terms of human casualty, as well as the variety of the guns and the multiple explosions, thanks to advances in effects technology and a bigger budget. There were several memorable lines from the first film that also made their way into this remake. The part where the group leader said he had been offered a lot of things, "but never everything", and that story about a guy falling down a tall building shouting "so far, so good" immediately come to mind. The humorous scenes about the villagers training for battle were also reprised.
There were some significant differences between the 1960 and 2016 version. In this age of political correctness, the poor and inept Mexican villagers of the first film were now replaced by regular white farmers. The multi-racial composition of the Seven had already been mentioned, however unlikely that such a group could ever band together back then. There was no equivalent of the Horst Buchholz character Chico from the first film, an impetuous and hotheaded young cowboy who will get romantically involved with a village lass. There was also no equivalent of Charles Bronson's character Bernardo who got to have dramatic interactions with the children of the village.
Denzel Washington was the main star of the film as the deadly serious Sam Chisolm, and he remains a magnetic screen presence as ever. However, several times, Chris Pratt stole the scenes from under Washington with his funny one-liners and energetic action scenes as Josh Faraday. Pratt's final scene was a pure Hollywood concoction. Vincent D'Onofrio was delightful as the good-natured brute Jack Horne. Byung Hun-lee was bad-ass as the dour but lightning-fast knife-wielding Billy Rocks.
Some of the Seven though were rather underused. Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux was not in too many scenes for a star of his stature, but he made the most of them with his dramatic skills. Alaskan native actor Martin Sensmeier was physically impressive as Red Harvest especially with his bow and arrows, but you wish he had more to do. Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo was rather nondescript as Vasquez and you won't really remember any remarkable scene he did.
As the bad guy, Peter Sargaard chews up the screen with his smoldering cruelty as Bartholomew Bogue. That said, Eli Wallach's character Calvera in the original film still remains to be scarier as a villain. Incidentally, you may note Matt Bomer's name in the credits, but his character Matthew Cullen can only be seen in the pre-opening credit sequence. If you came in during the credits, you would have missed him completely.
As the only female in a major role in this film, Haley Bennett will definitely catch your attention as Emma Cullen. She was portrayed as a very strong character with initiative and gumption. Thankfully, in contrast with usual Hollywood tradition, there was no unnecessary love angle that developed between her and any of the Seven. Bennett's star is on the rise this 2016 with many other upcoming major movie projects aside from this one, including "The Girl on the Train" with Emily Blunt, "Rules Don't Apply" with Warren Beatty, "Thank You for Your Service" with Miles Teller, and Terrence Malick's "Weightless" with Christian Bale.
This millennial version of "The Magnificent Seven" was well-made Western entertainment, updating a classic film for the current generation. Like "3:10 to Yuma" (2007) and "True Grit" (2010) before it, it seems the only Westerns with a good chance to get good box office lately are remakes. The new musical score (the last for which James Horner is credited as a composer) is obviously inspired by the original, but cannot match it. Hearing the original theme music played over the closing credits was nostalgic and invigorating. Director Antoine Fuqua (reuniting with his "Training Day" actors Washington and Hawke here) injects this modern version with a generous amount of excitement, humor and yes, gleeful unbridled violence. 7/10.