It’s safe to assume that nobody would expect director Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” remake to be a hot take on modern American ethnic relations. This updated version of the 1960 classic drops the brown face (poor Eli Wallach) and makes seven antiheroes of varying backgrounds the saviors of a tiny California mining town just before the turn of the century.
There are two ways to look at this racial hodgepodge: it’s great that they all work together and barely acknowledge their differences or it’s completely unbelievable that nary a word is mentioned about said differences. What’s life like for Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) as a black man riding around as a bounty hunter in the late 1870s? How did a smooth talking Southerner like Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and a knife wielding Asian such as Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) become such good pals?
Fuqua may know that most of the butts in the seats aren’t interested in a sociological study about the Old West. Instead, the screenplay from Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto (he of “True Detective” fame) walks the line between buddy comedy and Western action-thriller while almost ignoring anything that requires thought in favor of a shocking amount of violence.
The movie begins with the town of Rose Creek under siege by the corrupt gold mine entrepreneur, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Bogue offers to buy the Rose Creek resident’s land for pennies on the dollar, burns down a church, and begins randomly killing folks just for saying mean things to him.
One of those now dead Rose Creek resident’s widow, Emma (Haley Bennett), decides to hire some people to stop Bogue from taking over their town. Emma meets Chisolm after he serves a warrant in a bar (featuring the most Pizzolatto-y dialogue of the entire movie) and once she mentions Bogue, he’s interested.
Chisolm knows he’ll need some help here and begins recruiting. He enlists Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), a drunken, slick talking poker player who has the appearance of a guy that constantly lets his mouth get him into trouble. Chisolm also asks for help from Goodnight, who he has known for quite some time, and Billy.
Along the way, the gang hooks up with a high-pitch voiced mountain man, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Comanche, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and a Mexican outlaw, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).
What Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” lacks in character development, it makes up for with a fairly raucous finale that leaves hundreds dead. Much of the violence is up close and personal, yet the edits and camerawork avoid what would surely be blood-soaked deaths.
Sometimes in movies like this, it’s easy to predict who’s going to make it to the end credits and who is not. In this case, Wenk and Pizzolatto show no fear in taking out any characters they see fit, no matter the star power of who is playing them.
As far as those stars, most are perfectly cast. However, the normally reliable Peter Sarsgaard is flat out horrendous. He speaks like a southern preacher with an Adderall addiction with constantly fluttering eyelids. Sarsgaard really “villains out” here and it’s incredibly odd.
Chris Pratt’s patented snark has a bit more edge and evil to it and he and Denzel Washington, who is definitely not playing “Denzel”, share some high quality on screen chemistry. Vincent D’Onofrio’s eccentricities are perfect as the falsetto speaking Bible thumper.
But if Fuqua was to make a movie about any specific characters, it should be Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux and Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks. Their back story is criminally ignored and is easily the most intriguing aspect of “The Magnificent Seven.” Hawke and Lee instantly give off a brotherly love vibe without any history, which is only a testament to the skills these two actors possess.
There hasn’t been a fan club movement or online petition regarding a “The Magnificent Seven” remake and this movie doesn’t make the remake trend suddenly seem like a great idea. However, it’s extremely well made, beautifully shot, and provides solid escapist entertainment for two hours.
Besides, who could possibly not want to watch Denzel Washington ride a horse while firing a six shooter?