-The classic Western is updated for a modern audience, with decent success.

 

A remake of the 1960 classic Western, The Magnificent Seven knows what it needs to be to entertain a modern audience. It almost completely relies on the charisma of its stars and some great shoot-out action, helping the film’s sense of fun mute out any issues that might exist from slow pacing or the lack of great character development.

Our seven are all filled with different stereotypes it seems like, a banding together of different demographics and personality types to show the right kind of unification for a paranoid and divided South. When a band of thieves with upscale weaponry, led by an intimidating Peter Sarsgaard, take over a town and kill a few of its citizens, they present the remainder with an ultimatum, pay the thieves a price for the property you live on and they’ll let you stay put, don’t pay, and you die.

With all of this set in motion by a few killings and an oppressive takeover, two of the town’s residents (Haley Bennett and Luke Grimes) contact an infamous bounty hunter named Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to help them fight back. Chisholm then knows he needs to piece together a squad of good gun fighters that he trusts, so he sets off to build his fantasy football team of Southern baddies: the local drunk but suave shooter Josh (Chris Pratt), a sharpshooter war veteran (Ethan Hawke), the veteran’s right hand man/assassin (Byung-hun Lee), a great hunter (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche deserter (Martin Sensmeier). This rag-tag team of misfits uses their wit and skill to try to oppose the much greater forces of the barons that took over an innocent, hard-working town.

The star power here should be enough to at least get a viewer’s antennas up for possibly enjoying this picture. Washington is great here, he seems like a younger Denzel, and the always sturdy actors like Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio get the job done as well. However, it’s some of the small characters that help steal the show, as Byung-hun Lee does great work here with a unique style of combat, and Chris Pratt is as likable as ever in yet another goofy-yet-somehow-charismatic performance. He does a lot of scene sharing with Denzel, and it’s apparent that Pratt has really become a movie star. There’s no issue with having him play off of actors like Denzel or Ethan Hawke.

Another real treasure apparent in this grouping of actors is yet another small-scale but emotionally inflicting performance by Haley Bennett, who has begun to put together a string of small roles into a rise into stardom. She may be one of the next big things after good moments in Hardcore Henry and The Equalizer recently. Look for her in The Girl on the Train later this year.

Director Antoine Fuqua’s gamble on taking this film on was worthwhile. It’s not amazingly stylish, but the action is filmed competently with just enough energy to remain exciting, but not so much that it seemed frantic. The landscapes were nice, although there was clearly a choice to not make this just Western eye candy, the filmmakers wanted this to be a plot-based picture, and it is. Clocking in at over two hours hurts this movie also, because much of that is spent in preparation for the final battle, or in character development scenes that didn’t add much to the mostly marginal use of several of these people. It was nice that we tried to work everyone in successfully, but in the grand scheme of things, the film did feel a little overlong at times. It also doesn’t really dig deeper about any of the great social concepts that the classic Western did. Outside of a diverse group of actors, this movie is very plain. It’s just meant to be absorbed and laughed at on the screen, and it will fade from your memory soon after viewing. Not much is powerful or particularly investing.

The general concept of this, although a departure from the 1960s film of the same name, and even further a departure from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, is meant to prove to a modern audience that Westerns can still be fun. There’s been a struggle for Hollywood to make a film like this work. Although neo-Westerns (add-ons and mixtures of the Western with different genres in a modern context) have been semi-successful, see The Revenant or Django Unchained, it’s been apparent that a throwback Western with long shoot-outs and tongue-in-cheek humor has been left behind in the development of the film industry. I really enjoyed The Magnificent Seven, it managed to be engrossing and fun despite some surface flaws, and definitely should engage the modern action fan as well as the older Western fans who miss the glory of the genre. I may be more of the latter category, but this is a fine little tribute.

 

3.5 stars

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Genre: Western

Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen, Southpaw, The Equalizer)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, and Haley Bennett

with: Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Luke Grimes

RT Score: 63%

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