Review: “The Magnificent Seven” (2016)

3 out of 5 stars.

There is little that’s magnificent about director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the classic 1960 John Sturges western “The Magnificent Seven” (which was in turn a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa masterpiece “Seven Samuari”).  In fact, there’s little about it that fits into the western genre, despite it having all the appearance of being a western.

Denzel Washington as Sam Chisholm and Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday

The film is set in a town in the old west (although the movie was filmed in Louisiana; guess that’s why this film lacks the sweeping cinematography that’s usually a staple of the genre).  Corrupt businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his gang attack the peaceful mining town of Rose Creek, killing several people who try to stand up to them before leaving, promising to be back in a short time.  Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), whose husband Matthew (Matt Bomer) was one of the men Bogue killed sets out to a neighboring town to find anyone who can help them.

It’s there that she meets Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), a warrant officer who decides to help them when he learns that Bogue is involved.  He assembles a team of gunslingers that includes gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife master Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun), and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).  They arrive in Rose Creek with only a week to train the citizens to defend their town; in the meantime, the backstories of several of the characters are alluded to, while they grow fonder of the townspeople they’ve come to help.

The Magnificent Seven” is quite entertaining, and its climax features one of the longest and most intricate onscreen gun battles in some time.  But it never elevates its material to anything more than that.  The Seven are immediately painted as the film’s heroes, despite the fact that they obviously come from colorful—and perhaps not especially savory—backgrounds.  Instead of drawing a line between the good guys and the bad guys, the film could have been made more interesting by blurring that line a bit and portraying the Seven more distinctly as anti-heroes.  But that theme, nor many other common themes found in westerns, is nowhere to be found here.  In attempting to modernize the tale for today’s audiences, the story loses a lot of what makes it so great, trading in deeper meaning for a stereotypical Hollywood action movie.

This film should be applauded, however, for the diverse cast it assembled.  They all pull their weight, but Washington is particularly good as the no-nonsense leader of the group.  Unfortunately, the story, which spends its first half assembling the team and the second half submerged in a frenzy of violence, doesn’t fully live up to their talents.  Or to its predecessor.  Or to the western genre in general.

Runtime: 133 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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