MGM 132 Minutes PG-13
Can a remake of a remake reinvent a classic Western? This is a long ride with an even longer climactic gun battle with plenty of blood shed. At over 2 hours, we suggest you get plenty of popcorn.
In the hands of Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and writers Richard Went and Nic Pizzolatto The Magnificent 7 saves the town again, but with Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm leading this diverse band of brothers to take down the smarmy, murderous robber-baron, Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who is forcing homesteaders to give him their land and move on.
If you remember anything about the 1960 John Sturges directed version of 1954’s Japanese classic The Seven Samurai, it’s probably Yul Brenner trying to act like a cowboy and Elmer Bernstein’s iconic music which was usurped by a tobacco company for the most famous cigarette TV commercial of all-time, the Marlboro Man. That musical riff is referenced throughout the movie, but you have to wait until the end to get the full payoff of the iconic charge. The cinematography of the country is beautiful and well done, but is that dusty town really worth saving?
Fuqua says he didn’t set out to make his heroes a mix of Black, White, Asian, Mexican and American Indian, but he went after the best actors for the roles. He began with Denzel who has never made a Western before, and says he just wanted to see the Academy Award winner on a horse. Denzel creates his own deliberate, Western strut in the vein of John Wayne. He makes a pretty good Cowboy.
Washington won an Oscar for Training Day which was also directed by Fuqua. Ethan Hawke worked with them both in that film. Here, Chisolm is a warrant officer who brings in bad guys for paychecks. He’s confronted by newly widowed Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennet), who doesn’t wear black and dresses in pretty revealing tops around these bad guys. She persuades him to help save the town and get revenge for her husband being cut down in cold blood by Bogue’s nasty henchmen.
Chisolm says he needs an army of 200, but only manages to recruit six others. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is a hard-drinking, card shark who supplies a lot of the sarcasm and light moments with tricks and a wink.
Pratt says riding a horse was a challenge, especially for hours at a time with a cast of many. He’s one of the more developed characters.
Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) was a Confederate War hero who is still living with the demons of his past. He’s a conflicted character who never recovered from the war. He may be suffering from PTSD, which hadn’t been named yet. He’s the serious one in this film.
Robicheaux’ constant companion is knife-wielding Samurai-esque Billy Rocks (Byung hun-Lee). He’s always at the side of the sharp shooting war hero, but Billy has plenty of lethal talent of his own to offer the crew.
Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is on Chisolm’s list of bad guys to apprehend, until they meet. Doing something good to save the town puts them on the same side and they agree to work together.
Comanche-Warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is another loner. The Indian Wars have been lost so he has nothing left to fight for until he finds this band willing to battle for an honorable cause.
The most surprising and fun character in The 7 is Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). He’s a mountain of a man with a small-squeaky voice. D’Onofrio doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but creates a riveting characterization that leaves an impression. He kind of reminded us of Mongo in Blazing Saddles in terms of being the fun hero who has his own big personality.
Denzel, Pratt and D’Onofrio get the most attention from this script. We thought the others took a back saddle to these three. And the the town and the townspeople seemed a little like they came out of either central casting or are leftovers from Mel Brooks’s casting of Blazing Saddles. They were weak and unemotional, more window dressing having very little purpose like cardboard cutouts. We don’t find out until the end why Chisolm really took on rounding up his posse of 7 to beat the bad guy.
The final gunfight began to feel laborious, seeming to go on forever. Some of it doesn’t make much sense. It’s brutal and bloody with way too many repetitions of horses going down, and it’s just too long. We don’t think it’s necessary to see this film in IMAX. It wouldn’t add much unless you’re really into the gun fight and running horses.
Remakes of classics are always risky propositions. Comparisons are inevitable and this Magnificent 7 approaches, but doesn’t come close to making film buffs forget the originals from Sturges or Kurosawa. Denzel Washington is still a compelling screen presence. Watching the Man-In- Black saunter down the street with a John Wayne type stride is fun and memorable. He has a heavy load to carry in this film and even though he saves the town in the bloody finale, the film itself might be one of the casualties.