Now here is a big-budget Western that genuinely feels epic. The latest film from Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Southpaw), from a screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk, is an update of a re-make. John Sturges 1960 film of the same name was an all-star old-west style re-make of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, The Seven Samurai (1954). But Fuqua’s effort manages to overcomes the obvious risks of being immediately redundant, being lent a surprising level of distinction with enough touches of genre masters Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. Find out after the jump why this entertaining and genuinely thrilling shoot-em-up is worthy of a cinema visit.
When a greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek, with plans to mine for gold, the live of the desperate townsfolk are placed in jeopardy. When her opposing husband is killed by Bogue’s hand, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train) turns to a drifting bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) for help. Chisolm agrees to help and recruits an eclectic group of gunslingers – Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight (Ethan Hawke), Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Seismeier) – to stand up to Bogue and his ruthless henchmen and take back Rose Creek.
The ever-reliable Washington and Hawke have both appeared in several of Fuqua’s films, and this is the first time they have appeared together since Training Day, where both were Oscar-nominated. The casting effectively complemented the characters, with Pratt’s comedic skills – and a rugged charm that worked well in Guardians of the Galaxy but backfired hideously in Jurassic World – especially taken advantage of. The pleasingly diverse cast includes a black man, a Comanche Warrior, a Mexican outlaw, a Korean assassin and a very capable, strong-willed woman. Bennett gives an excellent performance in her substantial supporting role.
While the characters are interesting enough, and we wholeheartedly care about their survival in the final battle, there are a few that are short-changed along the way. Most notably Red Harvest, who blows in at the mid-way and joins the team without sufficient reasoning. Farraday, a mystery man with a penchant for tricks and explosives, is also a broad sketch. He’s a gunslinger with weaknesses for booze and women, seemingly drawn to wherever the shooting is.
Chisolm and Goodnight are given reasonably satisfying back stories to layer the drama. Goodnight carries with him sharp-shooting fame from his war-time heroics, but when he is called upon to stand by his new companions he becomes overwhelmed by cowardice. Chisolm’s family were killed under orders from Bogue, so his motivation for justice is heightened by a desire for revenge. Sarsgaard, notoriously typecast into sadistic villains, chews the scenery as the pitiless land baron always equipped with a pro-capitalist monologue.
The lethal, but toned-down violence is surprisingly restrained for Fuqua. With The Magnificent Seven and Southpaw he has made great strides as a filmmaker. He understands that the anticipation for violence, the build-up, is an essential element of the western. The build-up to the first shoot-out – the geometrical design of the stand-off, the cutting between the men’s faces and their holsters, and James Horner’s striking arrangement – is a brilliant piece of work.
The frequently gorgeous 35mm photography completely embodies an audience in that Panavision broad-canvas experience that defines the classic genre. The stunning locations are well used, while the costumes and the enriched design of the Rose Creek set, makes for an aesthetically convincing Old West. It is a pity that some of the dialogue – most notably Pratt’s – feels more at home in the 21st Century. The screenplay, for the most part, is quite efficient, drawing the seven together in amusing fashion and ensuring that the mechanics of the elaborate final showdown are communicated concisely in the extended planning montage.
There have been some sloppy additions to the now rarely-tried genre recently, but this very watchable entry created some butterflies. Benefiting from Fuqua’s note-taking of the techniques perfected by the masters, and a likeable cast, chalk The Magnificent Seven up as a pleasant surprise.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Nic Pizzolato, Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Haley Bennett
Runtime: 133 minutes
Release date: Australia: September 29, 2016