Scott F. Evans
Did The Magnificent Seven need a remake? No. John Sturges’ western from 1960 – itself a reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai – is a classic that still stands the test of time. Featuring such talents as Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson, there’s little a modern version can say or do that would ever unseat that version. But director Antoine Fuqua and film lead Denzel Washington gave it a shot, and actually turned in an enjoyable early Fall popcorn flick.
While it’s not a strict remake, the basic premise remains the same: A small team of gunmen (Samurai in the original) are hired to protect a defenseless town from invading bandits. Fuqua and screenwriters Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto also set their story in the old west (which also makes this feel like an unnecessary remake). Fuqua makes the wise decision to cast a multi-ethnic Seven and makes the villain a wealthy industrialist and his small army of hired goons.
One of Fuqua’s strengths as a director is that he always knows exactly what kind of film he’s making. The Magnificent Seven won’t reinvent cinema. It’s not a deconstruction of the genre and it’s not a tongue-in-cheek parody. It’s a rollicking, fast-paced adventure that pushes all the right buttons. He wanted to make a good, slightly old-fashioned Western and he succeeds. Fuqua doesn’t seek to dazzle with intricate camerawork and the script is just as straightforward. Still, the creators didn’t phone it in. Fuqua knows how to stage an action scene, and Wenk and Pizzolatto weaved a pretty decent yarn. This is a good film, that’s not especially interested in reinventing the wheel.
Like the original, the cast turns in solid work. There are no career highs in this movie, but everyone delivers fine performances. This is Washington’s third time working with Fuqua. As always, he gives a master class in naturalistic acting. He’s on screen for most of the film’s run-time and there’s not a phony moment on display. Chris Pratt brings his trademark charm in a role almost tailor made for his abilities. He leans a little too heavily into his shtick on occasion, but the film’s pacing is brisk enough that we’re not distracted. Vincent D’Onofrio nearly takes it over the top with some interesting character choices, but he’s offset by Washington’s more taciturn presence. Ethan Hawke, Byung-hung Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rolfo, and Martin Sensmeier round out the Seven. All play their parts admirably.
The Magnificent Seven is a first rate piece of escapist fare. It won’t insult your intelligence, but won’t vex you with cinematic pretensions either. It’s designed to be enjoyed for a couple hours and fade from memory as the week progresses. It’s worth a watch on the big screen.