Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Magnificent Seven Ride Again

One of my favorite films to watch during my younger days was the 1960 western The Magnificent Seven. This remake of Akira Kurosawa’s epic Seven Samurai has gone on to become a classic in its own right, and the story of a group of gunfighters defending a small town against villainous bandits has been remade & re-worked many times over the years. It’s hard to top this movie, with its powerhouse cast, including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn & Charles Bronson, and the rousing, iconic Elmer Bernstein score that’s become familiar even to those who haven’t seen the film. There’s also great onscreen chemistry between the stars, quotable dialogue and some excellent action set pieces; in many ways, it’s a forerunner of the modern big budget action-adventure movie. Several sequels to the film were produced, and there was even a pretty decent TV series version, which aired on CBS from 1998-2000.

Now director Antoine (Training Day) Fuqua has made a new adaptation of the tale starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. This time out, the villain is Bartholomew Pogue, a corrupt landowner who wants to drive out the residents of a place called Rose Creek. He’s trying to force the townspeople to sign over their land to him at a fraction of what its worth, so he can mine for gold in the area. Emma Cullen, whose husband is killed by Pogue, hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) to gather a group of gunfighters to take on Pogue. Chisolm assembles a team including gambler Josh Faraday, sharpshooter Midnight Robicheaux and eccentric tracker Jack Horne. This motley crew of heroes must learn how to get along with each other, as well as train the people of Rose Creek to defend themselves, in order to take down Pogue and his army of men.

Screenwriters Nic (True Detective) Pizzolato & Richard Wenk try to make the “seven” more politically correct, adding an Asian & a Comanche warrior to the team this time out. It’s nice to see these “modern” touches added to the story, but even though Emma (nicely played by Haley Bennett) hires the crew, the screenplay stops short of making her a full member of the crew, though she does contribute during the climactic battle. As you'd expect, Washington & Pratt (who are both good in their roles) get the lion’s share of screen time, though the supporting characters all get some small moments to shine, including Ethan Hawke as Robicheaux and Vincent D’Onofrio as Horne. Peter Sarsgaard is appropriately hiss-able as the villainous Pogue. But the Chisolm character’s motivation for going after Pogue is a little too predictable, and it's an unnecessary addition to his backstory. While this is a watchable, well-executed version of the story, it doesn't quite live up to the Kurosawa original or the beloved (by fans) Brynner/McQueen version.

The movie is nicely directed by Fuqua, and beautifully shot by cinematographer Mauro Fiore, who gives it that classic widescreen Western feel. The action sequences are exciting, and the cast gives it their all. There are also several call-backs to the original film for fans, both visually and especially, in dialogue. It’s an enjoyable movie but it stops short of being a classic. Still, it’s nice to see an old-fashioned Western adventure (with a few new twists) on the big screen again. If you like the genre or are a fan of the actors involved, you’ll have a good time watching the movie. It’s an entertaining, well-made popcorn film, but it’s not especially memorable. The Magnificent Seven is currently in theaters. Here’s a link to the trailer:

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