The Magnificent Seven
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, September 2016
Another day in Hollywood, another pitch for a remake of some classic that probably needn’t have been messed with. (Perhaps they said this in 1960 with regard to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but at least that was translating a Japanese classic into American.) In contrast, this updated Magnificent Seven opts to stick to its original time and place and merely update its casting with some brave/unusual/ uninspiring choices. Magnificent? More like Middling.
The straightforward story, always one of the successful hallmarks of a Western, involves the victimisation of a small American frontier town in the 1870s by an evil industrialist (a terrific Peter Sarsgaard, who has the invidious talent of appearing really sinister even when he’s not). Pillaged and left with the threat of his return, who are the townspeople gonna call? Luckily, wandering bounty hunter Sam Chisholm tips up at the right time, and in turns conscripts a band of mostly merry men to protect and serve.
This time, Yul Brynner’s bald-pated leader is played by Denzel Washington, heralding the first of the curious casting choices – while certainly progressive it’s historically unlikely that uncivilised white folk would have followed a black man – but in any event, Washington’s colour is not mentioned. Similarly, the taciturn “Oriental” counterpart (actually a Korean actor though spoken of as “found in China”) is a specialist in knives and an accepted member of the team, and although the Mexican has a teasing relationship with Chris Pratt’s cheerful buffoon, one can hardly cry “racist!”.
From the superb Training Day which got him attention, to the average The Equalizer and flawed Southpaw, director Antoine Fuqua’s ability to meet my excited expectations is certainly waning. As far as Westerns go, this one is unremarkable – boasting neither Tarantinian dialogue nor the exquisite photography of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But it’s largely well-executed, maintaining a smart pace and delivering a nicely choreographed battle scene which is less tiresome than most Marvel fights. Perhaps if one manages one’s expectations of magnificence, these seven will still entertain.