By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Released in 1954, Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai tells a story about a group of Ronin (masterless samurai) who selflessly defend a village of farmers from bandits who constantly steal crops. This film as well as its American Western remake The Magnificent Seven (1960) share the same story about a group of skilled warriors who hope to redeem their souls through helping defenseless farmers. Both films are legendary classics that have touched the hearts of audiences for ages. The newest remake of The Magnificent Seven by director Antoine Fuqua tells a nearly identical story, but with more intense visceral action and violence and some very entertaining humor performed mostly by Chris Pratt. However, something is missing. The heart and soul of its inspirations is sadly absent. The moral of the story is completely gone. As entertaining as the film can be, it misses the point of the original story entirely.
Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisholm, a licensed bounty hunter who seeks out criminals on the run. During an acquisition of one fugitive, Chisholm crosses paths with Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a gunslinging gambler. Chisholm and Faraday get hired by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett). Cullen is a farmer’s widow seeking men to defend her farming village from Bartholomew Bogue, a wealthy industrialist who has seized Cullen’s village for its gold. Cullen, Chisholm, and Faraday proceed to recruit additional gunmen including former soldier and sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheau (Ethan Hawke), Robicheau’s friend Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofiro), Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). The seven fighter fortify the town and prepare the villagers to fight against Bogue and his massive collection of fighters and killers.
Loosely based on the original Seven Samurai screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, the new Magnificent Seven has plenty of fun, entertaining, and thrilling moments, but just doesn’t have the same integrity that both The Seven Samurai and John Sturges’s Magnificent Seven have. Writers Richard Wenk, Nic Pizzolatto, and director Antoine Fuqua not only go for visceral violence, they attempt to make their story more realistic by giving the Sam Chisholm a more concrete ulterior motive for wanting to help Cullen and her village. This entirely misses the point and moral of the original films.
I went into this movie a tad cynical about its quality, which is interesting because comparing it to its predecessors is like an exercise in comparing cynicism with morality. The original films have a more definitive moral compass than this remake. The classic films set goals and high standards for humanity whereas the update is more about evening the score. The efforts of the seven are admirable in some ways, but never achieve the level of heroism and selflessness that they do in the classics.
As I have stated previously in my reviews of other remakes, I do appreciate when the filmmakers of updates do bring something different to their films. While the characters here all have different names, their archetypes are all too familiar. Some of their traits are even copied from the original Magnificent Seven and other westerns. The Denzel Washington character comes across as an imitation of the Django character from Django Unchained. Robicheau has the same exact issue as Lee (Robert Vaughn) from the the 1960 version. The others have a mix of traits and qualities that some of the other characters from the 1960 version have. So, with the exception of the more intense violence and different motivations for the villain and Sam Chisholm, this film doesn’t offer too much that is dynamically different.
The entire cast offer solid performances, but the real standout is Chris Pratt who gets to use his sharp wit and comic delivery to great effect. If there is any one element of this film that sets it apart from its predecessors, it is the humor that is well written and exceptionally performed. Pratt is perfectly cast as the devil-may-care, gunslinging charmer Josh Faraday. All of the hero characters are likable, but Faraday is easily my favorite.
S0, with the real heart of the story missing from this not-as-magnificent remake, I find it difficult to recommend spending top dollar to see it at the cinema. Granted, the cinematography by Mauro Fiore looks absolutely gorgeous and the sounds of gunfire, explosions and galloping horses sound wonderful in a theater sound system; however, this updated version of The Magnificent Seven lacks the soul and same level of redemption that made the original films beautiful and poignant. I would not recommend spending more than matinee prices for this entertaining western, or just simply wait for it to hit video formats. For those who haven’t seen The Seven Samurai or the 1960 version, these are movies that demand to be seen, as they are true examples of magnificence in filmmaking, storytelling, and heroism.