‘I’ ON CULTURE
We may be in the age of miracles, but a remake of an old movie that is really good has finally appeared: The Magnificent Seven. It is actually a remake of a remake. The 1960 John Sturges version was actually a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. At any rate, director Antoine Fuqua has made a tough, violent, but very strong movie.
The villain, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), opens the film as a ruthless millionaire determined to throw settlers off their land. His methods include killing all those who object, openly and without mercy. The widow of one of the dead, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), hires lawman Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to protect the citizens. “I want righteousness, but I’ll settle for vengeance,” she tells Chisolm, who has his own reasons for hating Bogue.
Chisolm recruits other men. Faraday (Chris Pratt), a jokester, gambler and expert gunman, is first. Then comes Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a former Confederate sniper haunted by memories of war, and his sidekick Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), an expert with knives. Mexican criminal Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), nutcase Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) fill the rest of the spots. Talk about diversity!
They wind up at the town and kill off two dozen sheriff’s deputies, all of whom are killers, without mussing their hair. Knowing that Bogue will not rest with his thugs down, they train the town’s men, providing a few laughs. The end of the film is a huge battle; a lot of people die. In other words, your typical western.
The violence was somewhat graphic, although the fact that the good guys never missed and the bad guys needed hundreds of bullets to bring anyone down limited the horrors a bit. But the action certainly kept everyone’s attention.
Is this as good as the original American version? Well, no. Keep in mind that the original seven were Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, and the one no one remembers, Brad Dexter. Except for Brynner, they all were at the start of their careers, and the charisma just dripped from them. Eli Wallach as the Mexican bad guy chewed up the scenery. The music from that film was great, and we heard its main theme in Marlboro commercials for the next 30 years.
In the current version, Washington provided a calm rock of stability. Just by his appearing, you knew the people of the town, as well as his fellow mercenaries, were in good hands. Pratt provided the humor that complemented Washington’s work. Hawke, who starred with Washington in Fuqua’s earlier Training Day movie, had the best chance to overact with his PTSD-torn Robicheaux. D’Onofrio used a squeaky, high-pitched voice some of the time, forgetting it at others, which was a bit distracting, but played the almost required role of the religious nut well.
The other mercenaries were well played. They did not have the same kind of screen time that the better-known actors did, but they were strong enough to carry their weight and even demonstrate some personality. Bennett was very strong as the widow. In what might have been an almost unnoticed role, she became the eighth warrior. The best performance came from Sarsgaard, who was great. He underplayed much of the role but, since businessmen are generally the only ones allowed to be villains these days, was able to be overwhelmingly evil. His reasoning for why he should be allowed to do whatever he wanted was a caricature of what some claim businessmen felt in those days, essentially, the idea that if God didn’t want him to kill and take whatever was his, God would have prevented it.
I should note that a whole lot of people were killed in this film. This is not a movie that young children should see, and parents of those in their early teens should take note of it. On the other hand, it does serve as a morality play where good and evil are very clearly marked out, and the bad guys eventually get what they deserve.
Most remakes are dreadful. This one is not. I still prefer the older version, but this new one is certainly worthy. If you like action films, this one is for you.