Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Luke Grimes

Within the same month I’ve seen two new westerns that have hit the big screen. The first was Hell or High Water, which is currently resting toward the top of my year end best list. Now comes the release of the remake of The Magnificent Seven, a movie that will not be on that list. It’s the late 1800s and the small town of Rose Creek is facing a bit of a dust up when industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard) rides into town and makes his presence known. In a town not too far away, Denzel Washington shows up as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm. He naturally turns heads from every white person in the town as he strolls into a saloon. After a few words with the bar keep, he proves he is not to be messed with thanks to his lightning fast trigger finger. Emma Cullen (Bennett), one of Rose Creek’s residents, propositions him to come to Rose Creek to take down Bogue after he killed her husband. Chisolm accepts her offer and turns to some of the men on his most wanted list to join his team for this revenge job. Many come from diverse backgrounds all with a penchant for doing harm. They include: Comanche Red Harvest (Sensmeier), a Mexican outlaw (Garcia-Rulfo), assassin Billy Rocks (Lee) who can use a knife like no other, the burly Jack Horne (D’Onofrio), and local cowboy and gambler Josh Faraday (Pratt).

2016 has, without a doubt, been the year of the revival, reboot, remake, whatever term you want to use. The Magnificent Seven is a remake of the 1960 Steve McQueen, Yul Brenner movie which itself was an American remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. There was also a television version that lasted two seasons. I went into this version with a completely open mind as I’m not comfortably familiar with the previous incarnations. Ideally it makes for the best in order to assess this movie on what it tries to accomplish, or in this case what it doesn’t accomplish. The man behind the remake is director Antoine Fuqua who is no stranger to the action genre having made Training Day (2001), The Equalizer (2014), and Southpaw (2015). He’s not afraid to get his hands bloody and make the most of flying bullets and the raw carnage that can follow. In my opinion if you’re going to do another version of The Magnificent Seven, you need to do something different with it. I had expected Fuqua to do just that and make this a bit grittier like his more recent films. Instead, he goes the opposite route to stay as true to westerns and the others that came before. The action sequences are still some of the highlights of the movie even if they don’t have the lavish, over the top feel that I had expected.

Going back to Fuqua staying true to the genre, it starts off promising with that distinct look and feel of the old westerns with the mysterious character strolling into town, the bar patrons, the death stares, the men of few words. It’s easy to sit back and kick your feet up. You want to see what Denzel Washington has in store. Unfortunately, the script by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wen, who wrote The Equalizer, doesn’t carry this excitement all the way through the final frame. All seven of the title characters start off having distinct personalities and character traits but that dissipates quickly with many of them feeling underutilized. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is a prime example of this as the Mexican outlaw in the group. He gets lost in the shuffle compared to Byung-hun Lee and Martin Sensmeier’s characters.

I hate saying it but the same can be said about good ol’ Denzel. This is the third film for Washington and Fuqua. Even though he plays the leader of the pack, there’s nothing memorable about his character or the performance outside of his entrance scene. He seems to be doing a favor to his friend as there isn’t anything more for him to do. Chris Pratt plays the quick-handed comedian of the group. He’s a man of few words but has a dry wit to him. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen from Pratt before. He has the calculated nature to him as to when he needs to turn on the crazy. Oddly enough, one of the only standouts in the cast is Vincent D’Onofrio. His character is described by Pratt as “I believe that bear was wearing people’s clothes.” It’s a funny line, and D’Onofrio very much plays up the burly, grizzly type and has fun with it. Rounding out the cast as the villain is Peter Sarsgaard. Try not to be too surprised as once again he’s playing the menacing villain. He’s like the new Christoph Waltz who must have it in his contract to only play lavish bad guys with no souls.

I know that some westerns tend to have a slower pace, and I really felt that during The Magnificent Seven. I kept waiting for something of note to happen. I waited for snappy banter between the characters, bodies to be flung across the street, a rousing game of poker, steamy sex scenes, profanity laced tirades. Maybe I was just waiting for something like HBO’s Deadwood to happen. Instead there’s a lot of waiting around for the next shoot out. For a film with a fairly basic revenge plot, it is stretched out far longer than it needs to be at a lengthy 2 hours and 12 minutes. It is only slightly longer than the McQueen/Brenner version, and technically Seven Samurai was three and a half hours. There’s not enough material in this version to justify that.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Looks good, but lacks substance


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