Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Produced by Roger Birnbaum/Todd Black
Screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto/Richard Wenk
Based on “Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa/Shinobu Hasimoto/Hideo Oguni
And “The Magnificent Seven” directed by John Sturges
Written by William Roberts
There’s a scene in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN where they’re all sitting around just talking. It’s one of several scenes where we get to know these men and they get to know each other before the apocalyptic final battle in which they know full well that some, maybe none of them will survive. One of The Seven says that to die in the company of such men as these in the service of others is the highest honor he can imagine in life. And that pretty much sums up why the the concept of a small band of men of superlative fighting skills protecting those who can’t protect themselves worked in “Seven Samurai” and continues to work. “Seven Samurai” has been remade numerous times unofficially but the official sequel, the 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is that rare sequel that has become just as legendary as the original. And I think it’s because of that ideal of dying honorably in the service of others, doing what is right just because you know in your gut and in your soul that it is right. It was one of the ideals that used to define manhood in our society and I think that’s why the 1960 version is still such a beloved movie, along with “Seven Samurai.” I don’t know if the 2016 version will still be watched 56 years from now but I like to think that all three of them still will be.
Just like in the 1960 version we have a gunfighter in black assembling a team of gunslingers to defend a town from a band of marauders. But this time, the gunfighter just doesn’t wear all black. He is black. Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is persuaded by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to come to the mining town of Rose Creek to wrest the town from the iron-fisted control of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sargaard.) He has made virtual slaves out of the townspeople and goes around slaughtering anybody who dares speak up against him, including Emma’s husband.
Chisolm rounds up a band of decidedly deadly yet eccentric gunslingers. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is a quickdraw expert and gambler. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) gained a reputation during The Civil War as the most dangerous sharpshooter in the country. His partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is expert in close quarter combat with knives. Mountain man/tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is an earthquake on two legs, possessed of terrifying physical strength. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw who seems to be incapable of missing anything he shoots at. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior who seemingly throws in with Chisolm on a whim but there is a deeper, more spiritual reason for him to join his cause.
Now, the two things that distinguish this incarnation of The Seven from all earlier ones (I’m counting the casts of “Return of The Seven” “Guns of The Magnificent Seven” and “The Magnificent Seven Ride!” in this) is first of all, the racial diversity. We’ve got a black man, a Cajun, a native American and a Mexican on the team which makes a lot more sense historically. And because each member of The Seven has a distinct style of fighting, it’s visually more thrilling during the fight scenes since it’s not just a bunch of guys all banging away with their guns with the bad guys. It also gives them all specific tasks to do during the movie, according to their gifts.
A large part of the fun of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is the enthusiasm of the cast. It’s hard not to have fun watching the movie when the cast obviously had fun acting in it. I like how the story takes it’s time to introduce The Seven and lay out their motivations for taking on the task of liberating Rose Creek from the clutches of Bogue. Director Antoine Fuqua knows his Westerns, that’s for sure. There are plenty of shots and scenes in this that are direct swipes from classic Westerns directed by John Ford, Sergio Leone and Walter Hill.
For this to be Denzel Washington’s very first Western he sure goes through it as if he’s been doing horse operas most of his career. There’s echoes of the world weariness and moral center of Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams and they both wear all black but that’s where the similarities end. Chris Pratt is fun as the freewheeling Faraday who does card tricks to confound his enemies but let’s be honest; when is Chris Pratt not fun to watch in a movie? He’s like a big kid who’s being allowed to just have fun and he does so with energy and aplomb. You just can’t help smiling when he’s onscreen. Ethan Hawke’s wonderfully named Goodnight Robicheaux is a sort of mash-up of the Robert Vaughn and Brad Dexter characters from the 1960 movie while Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is introduced to us in a nifty callback to James Coburn’s introductory scene in the original. The only real grumble I had with this movie as I was going out the door was that the classic theme song was used so little. I understand that this movie was the last one scored by James Horner so I fully comprehend that the studio wanted as much of his music to be used as possible as Mr. Horner was a true innovator and his movie scores are magic. But c’mon…
I’ve read reviews that criticized Antoine Fuqua for not bringing anything new to the Western genre with this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. But he really didn’t have to. We all know the story. The 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is one of those movies that even people who don’t like Westerns have seen and if they haven’t they know the story just as well as they know Superman’s origin or what the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ is in “Citizen Kane.” You don’t go to see THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN for plot twists or unexpected surprises. You go to see how well the story is retold. And it’s retold exceptionally well here. I’m also glad I got a chance to see it in IMAX and I heartily recommend that you do so as well. You guys know how much I love Westerns so I freely admit I’m biased. I simply love being able to go see a Western on the big screen and I love this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.