Review: “The Magnificent Seven” (PG-13)
L-R: Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt; MGM/Columbia Pictures(NEW YORK) — Sing it with me if you know it: “Dum, dum da-dum, da da da da da dum…”
Look, Hollywood took an old property and made it new again, and while we may scream and cry about Tinseltown’s lack of originality, at least here we get a furious, somewhat glorious, infectiously entertaining remake of a classic. And in fairness, the 1960 original Magnificent Seven was itself based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai, so this is a remake of a remake.
Star Denzel Washington teams up with Antoine Fuqua, the director who helped him score his Best Actor Oscar for 2001’s Training Day. While Fuqua’s never before directed a Western, a lot of his best work plays out like a Western, thematically. This is a perfect fit.
Peter Sarsgaard, so good at being super creepy, plays Bartholomew Bogue, a sadistic and successful prospector who has enough money to hire a small army to help him do his evil bidding. When he wreaks havoc on a small town he has designs on ripping off, the villagers, led by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), pool their money to fight back. Or hire someone to fight back for them.
That’s where Washington’s feared bounty hunter, Chisolm, comes in, whom we meet after he captures a wanted man who was posing as a bartender. It’s also when we meet Chris Pratt’s Josh Faraday, a charming, alcoholic con man of sorts who’s quick on the draw and even quicker with his slight-of-hand card tricks. Once Emma convinces Chisolm to help her fight Bogue, Chisolm rounds up a posse, starting with Faraday, then including his old Civil War buddy Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a wanted Mexican gunslinger named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Fulfo), and legendary mountain man Jack Home (Vincent D’Onofrio).
While the original Magnificent Seven played on offensive stereotypes, this version’s respectful, and basically colorblind. Chisolm and Robicheaux became friendly during the Civil War, though Robicheaux fought for the South and Chisholm is clearly black. The genesis of their relationship is never defined, nor does it need to be. Washington’s humanity, Fuqua’s direction, and Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto’s writing transcends stereotypes and skin color in a way virtually non-existent in any film genre.
A word about Washington. Even when he played Dr. Chandler on the 1980s TV medical drama St. Elsewhere, which I watched as a 10-year-old kid, he stood out, bringing a realness then that he’s since brought to every project, no matter who he’s playing. All these years later, Washington’s still the realest dude on the screen, always. Fame has probably changed him a bit but I’m willing to bet he’s still that same kid from Mt. Vernon, New York who cut his teeth at the Boys Club. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from. As he told a friend of mine recently, he’s just a regular guy with an extraordinary job.
The genius here is putting Washington in a movie with talents like Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio — actors who themselves are usually the realest guys on the screen in their respective projects.
While Wenk and Pizzolatto’s screenplay borrows attributes and backstories from the original Magnificent Seven characters, it endows this take’s new characters with some of those attributes and backstories — I suppose, to pay homage to the original. If you’ve seen the original, you’ll appreciate it. If you haven’t, you won’t know the difference. Either way, they’ve created a terrific, nuanced and endearing character palette.
The movie isn’t without its faults. It’s still an old-fashioned Western and while it overcomes silly stereotypes, it’s filled with gratuitous, nonsensical violence. Still, that’s what you’d expect.
The Magnificent Seven is a thoroughly satisfying, well-executed modern-day Western.
Four out of five stars.
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