A remake of a remake is what we have here. Or are we saying this is a remake of the 1954 Akira Kuroawa Seven Samurai film? I’m not sure even director Antoine Fuqua knows the answer to that. I think what we have is a film based on a film, that was based on a film. There have been other versions of The Magnificent Seven beside the most well-known (outside of the US at least) 1960 version, but you don’t count those, mainly because they were crap.
Director John Sturges (The Great Escape, Bad Day At Blackrock) directed the 1960 version from a screenplay by William Roberts (The Sheepman, The Mating Game). It featured an all-star cast including Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn and more. Whilst, initially, the movie wasn’t exactly what you’d call a box office hit, it did get a good review from Akira Kurosawa himself who sent Sturges a ceremonial sword as a gift. Since then, the film has gone on to be revered and is held in high regard.
So, what do you do with a film that is held in high regard, that’s made from a film that is also held in high regard? Well if you’re Hollywood you make it again (and again, and again). This time it’s Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) behind the camera from a script by Richard Wenk (The Expendables, The Equalizer) and Nic Pizzolatto (The Killing, True Detective).
Casting wise we have quite an esteemed bunch, led by none-other than Fuqua-favourite Denzel Washington (Training Day, The Equalizer) who’s joined by: Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World), Ethan Hawke (Gattaca, Training Day), Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Men In Black), Byung-hun Lee (Red 2, The Good, the Bad, the Weird), Manual Garcia-Ruffo (Cake, 180 Degrees) and Martin Sensmeier (Lilin’s Brood, False Memory Syndrome).
Each character has their own special ability, like you’d see in a computer game for instance. Washington is just bad-assed and good with a gun, Pratt is also good with guns but a wise-ass joker, Hawke is a sniper, D’Onofrio is an axe-weilding, head-stomping, do-whatever-it-takes kind of fighter, Lee is a knife-wielding and throwing quick-as-you-like killer, Garcia-Ruffo is a Mexican, guns too and Senmeier is a Red Indian who uses a bow and arrow and is also good with a gun.
The story hasn’t changed, the seven are requested to help a town that is being overrun by a bad man, Peter Sarsgaard in this instance, and his small personal army. That’s a good thing at least. What’s not great is that the recruitment part of the film is pretty lame. We start with Washington, so we know he’s in charge, who then subsequently finds Pratt and gets him involved by buying his horse from someone and saying he should work off his debt. Hawke is an old friend who now has Byung-hun Lee along as a, erm, friend. Garcia-Ruffo seems to join when Washington appeals to his ‘non-killer side’. D’Onofrio comes across the troop after tracking down two men who stole his rifle and money, is asked to join, walks away, then tracks them down again to help them and Senmeier comes across the gang whilst out on his horse and just says yes when Washington asks him to help.
There’s no fight, no-one refuses, everyone is just perfectly happy to help this little town out. Thankfully, this part of the film is quick, but it could have had so much more made from it. There’s then a part of the film where we get to know a tiny bit more about some of the gang and some of the towns people and then we’re onto a montage to prepare for battle, then the battle itself.
If you’re going to watch this version, don’t try to think too much about it. For example, don’t try to think that the guns that were used by cowboys were woefully inaccurate and hard to fire yet we have people shooting through tiny gaps whilst on horseback and hitting what they’re aiming for. Don’t try to wonder why Chris Pratt’s role was reduced (or maybe wrote like that) to being some kind of comic relief side-kick like we’d see in a Dreamworks or Pixar animation movie (think Donkey). And definitely don’t try to wonder why someone ever thought this was a good idea.
Out of the seven it is Vincent D’Onofrio who comes out on top. His character is funny, in the black-humour style you’d expect for a gun-slinging, lost-of-people-are-going-to-die movie, rather than the comic lines Pratt gets to deliver (though he does deliver them well). He’s also ruthless, as you’d expect someone to be in those days, and god-fearing/loving, again, as you’d expect.
Washington is his usual self: quiet, steely-eyed, at ease. Pratt is asked to be funny and he delivers but it seems at odds with the rest of the movie and too much in my opinion, which is a shame. Garcia-Ruffo doesn’t get an awful lot to do, Lee is good in the parts he has as is Hawke but, for me, it’s D’Onofrio who stands out in every scene he’s in, in a good way, a very good way.
Overall, it’s a laugh isn’t it. Don’t take it too seriously, don’t expect the mastery of Seven Samurai or the original 1960 version, though credit to Fuqua the directing is very nice, and you’ll enjoy it just fine.