The key to appreciating Antoine Fuqua's take on The Magnificent Seven is to dial down the expectations a notch, or maybe five notches, and realize that this version is like neither the Kurosawa original, the cinematic masterpiece Seven Samurai, nor John Sturges's 1960 film that is likely more familiar to American moviegoers. Fuqua's version, co-written by True Crime creator Nic Pizzolatto, is a perfectly entertaining flick but it's hard, actually impossible, to be happy with entertaining when you've got two cinematic presentations available for viewing that are vastly superior in every way.
However, my gut feeling tells me that a good number of people, mostly Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt fans, will be perfectly happy to forego greatness in favor of simply being entertained.
So be it.
The Magnificent Seven is entertaining.
In Fuqua's version, the tiny town of Rose Creek has come under the seige of wannabe industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), whose method of persuading townsfolk to give up their land doesn't exactly involve diplomacy.
Led by the feisty Emma (Haley Bennett), the people of the town seek to retain the services of some paid protectors in the form of Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
Yep, it's true. This version of the old West is mighty, mighty diverse.
The Magnificent Seven is a perfectly fine matinee popcorn flick, both entertaining throughout its just over two hour running time and instantly forgettable two hours later.
The casting of Washington as The Magnificent Seven's central heroic figure adds a certain fun and believable twist to the usual white savior we so often see in contemporary cinema. This time around, it's Washington and his diversely merry band of dastardly do-gooders who ride into town to save the mostly inept white folks who mean well but can't fight worth a lick.
Unfortunately, despite the racial diversity galore, Fuqua really never goes anywhere with it all.
Instead, The Magnificent Seven is a rather straightforward action flick with cartoonish evil provided by the almost Snidely Whiplash-like menace of Sarsgaard's over-the-top Bogue and the stoic heroicism of Washington's Chisolm balanced with the expectedly lighter and wittier Farraday.
You didn't really expect Pratt to play stoic, did you?
Ethan Hawke adds some nice gravitas as Robicheaux, a sharpshootin' war hero whose troubled mind and heart isn't quite up to the ole' shootin' game anymore. Vincent D'Onofrio matches Pratt's humor note-for-note and that serves to help balance out that wide chasm between Washington and Pratt's performances.
Haley Bennett is perfectly fine as Emma, though D.P. Mauro Fiore's obsession with her cleavage was more than a little bit overdone. The remainder of the film's cast is fine, though they're not given nearly as much to do.
A few of my peers have noted that the film's body count seems excessively high for a PG-13 rated film. While I'm ordinarily a tad put off by excessive violence, I found the violence in The Magnificent Seven to be abundant yet not overly graphic in presentation.
In all likelihood, The Magnificent Seven could have been a far better film with more emphasis on the diversity that seems important yet never really is important. The film may have very well benefited, as well, by crossing that line and aiming for the R rating, a rating that may have allowed the film to transcend its matinee popcorn flick status and become a film that actually lives up to the pressure of remaking not one but two classics.
While The Magnificent Seven may not be everything it could have been and should have been, most moviegoers aren't movie critics and they simply want to escape the real world with their favorite stars for a couple hours. With popcorn in hand and expectations in check, The Magnificent Seven is here for you to enjoy.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic