I was thinking…
…it is as old a saying as it is ironically grammatically incorrect: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is as true with films as it is with anything else. If a film is done well the first time and there is, for whatever reason, a desire to revisit or remake it, there is no–absolutely no–logic behind altering the very things that made the film worth making in the first place.
Thank goodness there are still some filmmakers who understand that. Antoine Fuqua, the gritty director of diverse action films like Training Day, King Arthur, Shooter and The Equalizer, thought he would try his hand at remaking John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960), which was, in turn, an Americanized remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954).
Still following? Good.
While I do not necessarily feel this was a remake we needed, (of course I don’t think we really need most remakes), it is, nevertheless, not a disappointing one. Why is that? Because it stays true to the basic premise of the original story without taking outlandish liberties in an effort to ‘fix’ what came before it.
Rose Creek, a small town in the Wild West, is in the grip and under the thumb of a mining magnate named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Saarsgard—Jarhead). Unable to turn to law enforcement as their own sheriff is on Bogue’s payroll, the townsfolk find little recourse when Bogue demands the citizens sell him their land for pennies on the dollar.
When the reluctant leader (Matt Bomer—White Collar) of those opposing Bogue stands up to him, he is gunned down in the streets, leaving a grieving but vengeful widow, Emma. (Haley Bennett—Hardcore Henry, The Equalizer).
When she seeks out someone–anyone–to help them in their plight, she is drawn to a warrant officer named Chisholm (Denzel Washington—The Equalizer, Training Day). Promised a payment of everything the villagers have, Chisholm enlists a disparate and colorful band of unlikely heroes, beginning with a gambler named Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt–Jurassic World), and an old friend and Confederate veteran sharpshooter called ‘Goodnight’ Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke).
Adding an Asian assassin (Byung-hun Lee), an American fur trapper/tracker (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier) and a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), the seven men do short work of cleaning house in the town of Rose Creek.
Knowing Bogue has plenty more men at his disposal in Sacramento, the band of seven begin ‘A-Teaming’ the town while training the villagers how to fight.
‘Diversity’ has certainly been the buzzword of the latter decade or so and it usually carries with it connotations of political correctness, aspects of Affirmative Action and other leftist political and social policies. In short, it has been robbed of its original meaning and for no purpose other than to further political gains.
For The Magnificent Seven, however, the diversity of the cast is not only what ‘diverse’ should mean, it actually does not feel forced. Perhaps the most questionable choice would be Denzel Washington in the role of the duly appointed warrant officer, Chisolm; but cracking a book or two will reveal there were a handful of black deputy marshals and other lawmen serving in the Wild West. The fact director Fuqua does not completely gloss over the fact Denzel may not fit into most preconceived notions of the Old West helps add a little more believability to the part. It is also done, thankfully, without the satirical edge of Mel Brooks’ Sheriff Black Bart.
Although the Mexican, Comanche and Korean round out this diverse group, perhaps the most surprisingly colorful member is the tracker played by D’Onofrio. His imposing bulk plays in direct contrast to his reedy voice, which adds a distinctive sadness to the character.
Pratt, true to form, provides the majority of the levity in the film–admittedly not a stretch for him–but such lightness is necessary in a story line such as this. Indeed, the humor adds a depth of character where there is so much otherwise lacking.
That is the major flaw in this version of The Magnificent Seven. Including the seven titular protagonists, there are several characters who could have benefited from more screen time and more development. Only once in a while is there a movie that should have been longer and this is one of them.
Maybe it is because they do not spend enough time on character development that we do not really understand the impetus driving most of the mercenaries to aid a struggling town, but that aspect is also woefully missing.
But as this is ultimately an action film, it fills its place in the genre quite admirably. With hand-to-hand combat, sharpshooting, melees, gunfights and dynamiting, there is little missing where good old-fashioned action is concerned.
Fuqua does choose to make one major alteration, however. But, as it is to change the antagonists from roving bandits to a wealthy, amoral scumbag who flouts the law and is supported by a cadre of corrupted legal officials, it speaks extremely well to our current political and judicial climate.
Whether you are in the mood for ronin saving villagers from bandits or mercenary gunslingers fighting off a greedy industrialist, all versions of The Magnificent Seven never fail to entertain. This one is certainly no exception as it does what few remakes can do: hold its own when standing alongside its predecessors.
Ammo Dump rating: 8 out of 10 bullets
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
The Magnificent Seven
Run time: 133 minutes (2 hours 13 minutes)