By Chaz Lipp
Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) updates the 1960 John Sturges-directed classic The Magnificent Seven (itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) for a new generation. Fuqua scores points by adding diversity to the cast. Screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk infuse the characters with depth. And the cast, led by Denzel Washington as the leader of the ‘Seven,’ brings it all to life with consistently imaginative performances. The gunfights hit hard (the movie pushes the limits of the PG-13 rating with visceral violence that never feels gratuitous). The only mild caveat is the overly-indulgent 133 minute running time, which devotes too much to the climactic gunfight.
Peter Sarsgaard has been great as a “bad guy” before (proceed directly to his remarkable work in season four of The Killing). Here he effectively taps into that nefarious vein as tyrant developer Bartholomew Bogue. It’s 1879 when Bogue and his men invade the small town of Rose Creek, fixed on taking it over. The ensuing massacre of innocent townspeople spurs now-widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to hire gunslinger Sam Chisolm (Washington) to avenge the town and keep Bogue out.
Chisolm assembles a crew that includes card trick expert Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) and a PTSD-stricken Civil War vet, Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke). Pratt is the primary co-star here, basically delivering a slightly twangy variation on his established ‘comedic hero’ persona (i.e. Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy). It’s Hawke who lingers in the memory long after the credits roll. His Goodnight is a haunting creation, a man weary of pulling another trigger even during target practice yet one who has not forgotten any of the lessons learned on the battlefield. Part of the aforementioned diversity in this new Seven comes from Haley Bennett, whose Emma is very much a part of what might’ve been deemed men’s work.
Other members of the team further the diversity. Byung-hun Lee delivers a sly turn as a knife expert Billy Rocks. Martin Sensmeier (an actor of Alaska Native ethnicity) is Red Harvest, a Comanche who bonds with Chisolm over raw deer innards (seriously, you’ll probably want to put down the popcorn momentarily during their initial meeting). Manuel García-Rulfo isn’t really given any signature moments as Mexican outlaw Vasquez, but Fuqua is juggling many characters, trying to let them all make an impact. Vincent D’Onofrio steals scenes as eccentric tracker (and former killer of Native Americans) Jack Horne.
Of special note: James Horner began work on the score prior to his untimely death at age 61 (he was in a plane crash on June 22, 2015). His work here (completed by Simon Franglen) is his final score, peppered with allusions to both Elmer Bernstein’s classic score from the 1960 original.
The Magnificent Seven Images: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Columbia Pictures