The Magnificent Seven

I have mentioned once or twice before here on  Boney Abroad that I am a Western nut.  I love the genre.  You can tell just about any tale within the framework of The Western, set anywhere, anytime and even in deep space (see Star Trek).  The Western is a staple of American cinema and also one of the most misunderstood and misused.  From the depiction of the Native American to the overuse of Monument Valley, The Western has told the tale that America wants the world to see.  "Plucky White People" (which I'm sure is trademarked in the Constitution) taking on a hostile country and bending it into the super power it is today.  That is true to a point, what they neglect, usually, that it was done on the backs of slaves and the genocide of the native tribes.  Following a lull in recent years, The Western is back with a vengeance.  Into this post-Hateful Eight world rides Antoine Fuqua's take on The Magnificent Seven.  A remake of a remake, remade afresh with the wonderful Denzel Washington riding front and centre.

It is round about 1870 and the mining town of Rose Creek is being threatened by the mining robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).  During a town hall meeting to discuss what, if anything, they can do, Bogue rides in with this men and makes clear he wants their land at under market value within three weeks.  To make his point, his men kill a few towns people, including the one man to question him, Matthew Cullen (Matt Bomer).  The freshly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) decides enough is enough and goes looking for men to save her town and stop the bloodshed by, um, more bloodshed.  In a nearby town we are introduced to warrant officer, not bounty hunter, Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington).  Black hat, black clothes, black horse, Chisholm walks into the local saloon, where card sharp and gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is hustling.  To the barman walks Chisholm, to the echo of his boots and hammers being drawn.  Needless to say, violence ensues and Chisholm gets his man.  From this, the widow Cullen decides she has found her man and recruits Chisholm on the basis that a man named Bogue is after their land, for Chisholm, there is history here, we are lead to believe.  So Chisholm, starts by recruiting his men by buying Faraday's horse and thus forcing him to join.  They then head off to gather the remaining five over the next ten minutes of film.  We see the capabilities of each of the gathered men, Ethan Hawke's haunted sharpshooter, "Goodnight" Robicheaux and knife welding side kick, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee of the brilliant JSA fame), Mexican bandito Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Indian hunting tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio "I believe that bear is wearing people clothes") and the token native, the Comanche warrior shunned from his tribe, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier, who is Tlingit).  Into Red Creek they ride and quickly put paid to the garrison Bogue has left behind.  Rallying the town, the Seven dig in and prepare for Bogue's inevitable return and the battle that will define the town, and the Seven, who's own demons are there to be excised.

You've seen it before.  This idea has been reused hundreds of times before and after Akira Kurosawa perfected it in 1954 with Seven Samurai, which all the Magnificent films are based upon.  Kurosawa loved Westerns and his greatest films used the framework of the Western and set them within the Sengoku period, where the Samurai was at their height.  Rashomon, Yojimbo, and it's sequel Sanjuro, and The Hidden Fortress (which George Lucas ripped off for Star Wars.  Really, he did) are all basically westerns.  What Kurosawa did better than most was to use the framework to cast a light on contemporary Japan.  Seven Samurai was a look at the past being relevant to now, class and the rise of the New Japan in the post war world.  Antoine Fuqua spoke in a Deadline interview about wanting his Magnificent Seven to "not stray from the DNA of Seven Samurai" and that is a noble goal.  The problem is, as enjoyable as his The Magnificent Seven is, it watches like a checklist of Western cliche and sometimes not a good one at that.   The casting is great and the scene where Faraday collects Goodnight and Billy Rock is lifted from the slow-mo duel scene in Seven Samurai, its a wonderful scene, but the film strays from that basis and, for me, some scenes felt like Blazing Saddles being played straight.  Tarantino showed how a one set Western can be amazing (if over long).  For a town battle, Fuqua has built an incredible town, but clearly hasn't watched Kevin Costner's Open Range, which has one of the greatest modern-shot, town set, gun flights (or Unforgiving for that matter).  Fuqua's Seven never miss, their wounds barely slow them down and the bad guys are thrown in and fall like pins in a bowling alley.  Still, to be fair, it looks great and it is rather exciting, if not new or overly impressive.  Washington is perfect casting for the leading Kambei role.  But while Fuqua is trying to fit Chris Pratt into some sort of sidekick/partner role, the film is missing the internal antagonist of the Kikuchiyo/Mifune role.  While race could have been used, once this lot are together, they are a team, men on mission and, momentary antagony aside, they get on with it.  Which is a pity, as is Fuqua leaving is camera on Haley Bennett's breasts whenever they wander across screen.

All in all, The Magnificent Seven is an enjoyable, if forgettable, evening out at the cinema.  For me, with all these great pieces in place, it is a cliche ridden missed opportunity that could have been so much better. 

The Magnificent Seven is out now and rated 12A.