The latest from director Antoine Fuqua is The Magnificent Seven, the remake of John Bridges’s 1960 classic starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, and Charles Bronson. That, in and of itself, was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai (so I guess Hollywood was “out of ideas” even back in 1960, huh, message board trolls?). The 2016 version features an equally dynamic cast, boasting Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D’Onofrio (the chameleon of Hollywood. Am I the only one who finds him virtually unrecognizable from role to role?). Fuqua himself is best known for gritty, mostly well-received, and moderately-performing ’80s-era style action films (often starring Washington). This is probably his highest profile project to date.
I’ve seen the original version of this film (the Bridges film, that is), but it’s been a number of years and it was during a time when I was going back and watching a large volume of classic films, rapid fire. In retrospect, that wasn’t the best way to do it because a lot of them didn’t stick, and The Magnificent Seven was one of those. So, this won’t be a compare/contrast column. I’m looking at this one through mostly-fresh eyes, for all intents and purposes.
While I wouldn’t quite say that westerns have experienced a full resurgence in recent years, audiences have seemed more open-minded to them if the ingredients seem to be to their taste. The Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake was amazing and extremely lucrative . The Lone Ranger severely underperformed in relation to its unnecessarily monstrous budget but in most cases, that one would have been considered a relative success. Quentin Tarantino’s locked box mystery The Hateful Eight was a little bloated but still pretty darned good and it did well enough for itself. And the recent Hell or High Water is still doing good business in theaters and is a legitimate contender for the best film of the year, so far (even if the best film of the year, so far, is actually Kubo and the Two Strings). So, combine the allure of a western that’s a remake of a beloved classic with an irresistible cast and the timing just feels right for The Magnificent Seven.
MGM and Columbia are well aware of all of this and chose to release the film after the summer movie season came to a close. In reality, this is exactly the type of film that belongs in the summer but it simply would have been ignored in favor of more contemporary blockbuster fare. Having moved past much of that for the year, The Magnificent Seven gets that core audience mostly to itself and truly gets to shine. Nicely done.
And it certainly shines. I’ve already mentioned much of the cast, and I could really harp on them for a thousand words or more, but I’ll resist. To keep it short, I’ll say that they all go above and beyond and are the primary reason people will enjoy this film. Denzel is Denzel: cool, confident, subtle, and commanding. Pratt is a genuine movie star. He’ll get lots of younger audiences to give this one a try and will keep them entertained with his unmatched presence and comedic timing, bolstered by something deeper as an anchor. And D’Onofrio just continues to be a human Transformer. It was a couple of minutes after he arrived onscreen before I even realized it was him! He is an underrated master of performance (where’s his Emmy for Daredevil?! Tatiana Maslany finally got hers for Orphan Black but all won’t be well until D’Onofrio is recognized, too!) and he gives a supremely memorable turn as Jack Horne, even with somewhat limited screen time. If for no other reason, pay your money just to watch these three guys do their thing.
The story and themes are typical western fare, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a little safe, but giving audiences what they expect rarely turns out badly for those with money to lose. I will say (again, having essentially forgotten entirely how the 1960 version plays out) that there were several events that took me by surprise. I thought it was going to be predictable and I’m happy to say that I was wrong. Keep in mind that the film is representative of a bygone era and the characters are portrayed as such. Judging them using modern sensibilities is a foolish thing, though I can only recall one specific moment that could possibly upset people who just love to get upset at entertainment.
There are some action clichés, such as magical protagonists that avoid flying walls of bullets for long periods of time, but I paused to think about that and came to a surprising – but simple and logical – conclusion: In the actual massive shootouts that happened, oh so long ago, there were inevitably people who avoided kill shots to survive and win the day. So, I suppose, really, it’s not all that unbelievable. But, even if it was, so what? Sometimes, it’s okay to just have fun with a movie and stop taking things so seriously.
Really, though, it’s pretty easy to have fun with The Magnificent Seven. Whether you’re dealing with scenes of dialogue or all-out action, the entertainment level never drops and neither does the quality. Mix that in with the fact that American audiences don’t truly want original films, and I expect that this one is going to do pretty well, as it deserves to. For me, the Washington/Pratt/D’Onofrio trio steal the show (helped out by some sharp dialogue) and are enough on their own to give this one a hearty recommendation. Add to that the excellently-staged action pieces, wonderful set design, and effortless escapism and The Magnificent Seven is a winner on all levels.
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