Review: The Magnificent Seven
By Michael Acciarino
Release Date: September 23, 2016
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt
Director: Antoine Fuqua
A twenty-first century, Westernized remake of a classic Japanese epic.
Technically, this film came out in 1954, in the form of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. It was a smashing success in Japan, and was later remade in an Old West-style, titled The Magnificent Seven, directed by John Sturges in 1960. Kurosawa, so impressed by the spin on his film, presented Sturges with a sword. At the time, critics were not as kind, labeling it “pretentious” and nothing more than a lackluster rip-off. As recent as 2013, however, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The question now is how “significant” this 2016 remake turned out to be. Will it stand the test of time? Very few remakes do, and only when they have something to say — an additional layer to the classic being retold, something more than a measly cash-grab by a studio lacking resources, desperately resurrecting its aging assets. The answer is “no,” but that shouldn’t keep you from buying a ticket.
The plot that has carried over from Seven Samurai is, like many timeless movies, very simple. A town of farmers, unable to defend themselves against an army of bandits, turn to men that can. Seven men, to be exact. In this Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) remake, these bandits are led by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The reasoning behind his villainy is summed up in one line, borrowed from the film’s 1960 original: “If God didn’t want them sheared, he wouldn’t have made them sheep.” In light of a recent attack, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) calls upon Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a warrant officer, to defend her and the town she calls “home.” After accepting her request, Chisolm must then round up a group of allies to take on the bandit army. In Seven Samurai, seven fighters is somewhat rationalized, but seemingly random in The Magnificent Seven (why not eight?). Chisolm proceeds to gather an all-star cast, including Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket) and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), and prepares to challenge Bogue’s army “on his terms.”
This film offers what I thought Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight would provide: a flashy action flick with some really great actors. Tarantino’s Western, though far from subpar, presented a Clue-like whodunnit, whereas The Magnificent Seven adequately satisfied my desire, while also separating itself enough from the original to almost seem warranted. Gunfights are above average, and make for one of the most violent PG-13 movies to-date. These updated heroes hail from different cultures, adding a nice layer of diversity and character development — one of them even seems to suffer from PTSD. Each one is flawed, some jagged, but they seem to find a balance amongst themselves. The chemistry between them is evident, and definitely makes for something a little more than just another popcorn movie.