I must confess that, as an admitted fan of well-crafted ‘Westerns’…I’ve never seen the original 1960 version of this flick. I’ve always known about it, it just never presented itself at a time when I could check it out. It was one of those ones that I was sure I would EVENTUALLY catch up with. And I still need to keep on waiting, because this here is the Antoine Fuqua-directed, medium-budgeted remake (in all fairness, the ‘original’ is a Western retelling of an older Japanese Samurai movie too), that I just happened to stumble upon the Blu ray for a whopping $5 at Walmart (don’t judge me!). Either way, to me, this was a good deal, as I’m a fan of the vast majority of Fuqua’s work. He’s impressed me with titles like The Replacement Killers (1998), Training Day (2001), Tears of the Sun (2003), Brooklyn’s Finest (2009), and the two Equalizer flicks (2014, 2018), to name just a few. Even his lower-calibre efforts like King Arthur (2004) and Olympus Has Fallen (2013) have their entertaining merits. He’s a very versatile director with a strong visual aesthetic that I like. Occasionally he’s let down by shitty CG, but I’m usually pretty happy with what I get from his movies. And that streak has yet to be broken!
In a nutshell, The Magnificent Seven focuses on a small, rustic town in the American ‘Old West’ which has fallen under the violent, oppressive rule of a ruthless industrialist named ‘Bogue’ (Peter Sarsgaard), who intends strip the area of gold. A couple of plucky towns-folk strike out to find guns for hire, first off enlisting the services of a bounty hunter / Marshal name ‘Chisholm’ (Denzel Washington) who in turn leads them to a piss-tank gun-fighter named ‘Josh Faraday’ (Chris Pratt), a ‘rebel’ sharpshooter struggling with PTSD named ‘Goodnight Robicheaux’ (Ethan Hawke), a monstrous trapper / tracker named ‘Jack Horne’ (Vincent D’Onofrio), a skilled knife-man partnered with ‘Robicheaux’ named ‘Billy Rocks’ (Lee Byung-hun), a Mexican outlaw named ‘Vasquez’ (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a Navajo warrior named ‘Red Harvest’ (Martin Sensmeier). This magnificent 7 rally the town in a desperate bid at self-preservation, leading to a clash with a literal army brought in by ‘Bogue’.
So on a hot Saturday afternoon, I sealed my self in our new theatre room, grabbed some munchies, along with my pen and paper, and hit PLAY.
Here are my scribbles…
–Nice cinematography. A ‘Tony Scott’ feel. This has been true for Antoine Fuqua’s films, going all the way back to his first, The Replacement Killers. From that flick on, it was clear that the man had stylistically bent his knee at the alter of Tony and Ridley Scott. And since those two brothers are / were two of the best who ever worked in the medium of film, that very much works for me!
–Sarsgaard! Solid ‘bad guy’ vibe. The introduction of Peter Sarsgaard’s character ‘Bogue’ was well executed, strongly suggesting menace and violence just below the surface, which does not take long to manifest. The stakes are set almost immediately.
–Good tone-setting intro. Brutal and tense. Dramatic. As I just mentioned, the intro to ‘Bogue’ and the outcome of that scene definitely sets a tone, and makes you almost instantly start wishing for characters deaths. Good start for a Western!
–James Horner?! Was this the last thing he composed before dying? I hear shades of ‘Patriot Games’. Turns out…yes, this was the last score composer James Horner (Aliens) worked on before he was tragically killed in a plane crash in 2015. Interestingly enough, he had composed and recorded a bunch of material before having seen any footage to work with. Fuqua found this out after Horner’s death (I believe) and together with the late composer’s producing partner, tailored what was written to the final film and completed that which wasn’t done. As with most of Horner’s past work, the end result is solid, rousing even… though I will admit that Horner has been accused of reusing his own music and themes, and that does turn up here too. I LOVE his music for 1992’s Patriot Games, but some of this sounded very similar. At least the stuff he’s recycling is great!
–Great entrance, Denzel! Killer stache. Pretty much says it all right there. The man takes the clichéd ‘cowboy badass strides dramatically through swinging bar doors’ scene and makes it his own. Rockin a deadly soup strainer along the way.
–Sweet bar scene. Denzel’s pure badass. Subtle undercurrent of humor. It works. Going from a killer entrance to a slick scene of tension, violence and humor that moved along at a good pace.
–Very Django Unchained. Claiming bounty scene. Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 flick has a classic scene where, after killing his target, Christoph Waltz has to tactfully explain the situation to the up-in-arms townsfolk in order to claim his bounty and get out with his life. VERY similar scene here.
–Pratt’s a goof, but he’s funny. Magic card trick. In real life, Chris Pratt is allegedly a total douchebag, with a weird mix of religion and trophy hunting thrown into his mechanics. But like how I feel about Tom Cruise and his fucked up cult of Scientology, I still appreciate Pratt as a performer, and this role helped solidify that. There’s a scene where he cleverly gets himself out of a potentially lethal jam using a card trick on a pair of gun-wielding scumbags, and it was a good time.
–They’re playing it safe on gore! Damn! Like with my favorite gangster flicks, I like some spraying red in my Westerns. One of my favorites is 1988’s Young Guns, which came with a well-earned R rating, given the graphic nature of some of the deaths. I’d been hoping that Fuqua, with his capable embrace of the Restricted rating on past films, would just go for the gold with this one. But…it would seem he wasn’t allowed to (damn film studios protecting their investments!). But, to his credit, he does do a good job SUGGESTING violence in the several quick-paced action scenes.
–Great theme! Big smile. One aspect of the ‘original’ 1960 version that I was familiar with was the main theme, which has a great rousing quality to it. It’s been reused here, to really nice effect, I thought.
–Hawke! Lookin cool! I’ve been a fan of Ethan Hawke’s work going back to his debut in one of my favorite childhood sci-fi/fantasy films, 1985’s Explorers. I appreciate how he’s aging (and allowing himself to age) and he always brings something to any role he takes on, and this is no different. He definitely brings some interesting nuance to this role here.
–Good cast chemistry. That’s it…they all work well off each other and feel like a team by the finale. Much of the subtle humor is found in their interactions.
–D’Onofrio! Loving this cast! Vincent D’Onofrio is another of those actors I ‘ve been following since I was a teen, when I first saw him in Full Metal Jacket (1987) and then in the highly underrated Strange Days (1995) and, like Hawke, always brings a little extra to any role he seems to take on.
–Characters feel like characters. And I wrote that as a compliment. I easily found myself accepting and getting caught up in the exploits of this cast of rogues, as the characters (mostly) feel like there’s substance or credible reasons behind them and their actions.
–Eeeewww! Raw deer liver! Right outta the deer! Yeah…pretty gross.
–Again, rousing score. I’m clearly still digging the tunes as I write this.
–Sweat and grime. I love it. Not so much in Real Life, but in movies, especially ones taking place in rough n tumble settings like the Wild West…the more, the merrier! Fuqua conveys this nicely.
–Totally Red Dead. I haven’t actually played any of the Red Dead Redemption games, but in some of my stoned time-wasting, I’ve come across many Youtube compilations of hilarious and brutal rag-doll footage from the game, so I get the point. A couple of the scenarios that turn up in Seven VERY much reminded me of some of those snippets.
–I like the suggested brutality. Believe it or not, I don’t always think that gore makes a movie better. 9 times out of 10…it does, but that last one can be well used too, to hold to a studio-mandated PG-13 rating. The suggestion, without the graphic, onscreen follow-through, can be highly effective, as it can put the gore into the audience’s head, without actually showing it. A good example of this is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Everyone seems to remember it as this hyper-gory flick, but it you go back and re-watch it, the vast majority of the violence is suggested, not overtly smashed into your face. The same approach works well here.
–I like Hawke’s PTSD angle. If I had to compare the Robicheaux character to any other Western character, it would easily be Val Kilmer’s immortal Doc Holiday, from 1993’s Tombstone. Sort of the mysteriously dangerous gentleman dandy sort, who has skeletons in the closet. The idea of him being a former Southern soldier during the Civil War, who was traumatized by his war experiences and has since changed his views, was a cool one and Hawke did well with it, in my opinion.
–Good sound design. Solid ‘Ooomph!’ on the lower end, especially gunfire and explosions, of which there are several.
–Nice A-Team montage. Exactly what that says. Just like in that forever awesome 80’s show, there’s a montage of the wacky assembled crew putting their plan into action, which was fun to see.
–Energetic gunfight finale’. A Saving Private Ryan feel. Someone could easily plot a parallel between the epic close-quarters combat of Spielberg’s 1998 classic’s Third Act and how the climax of The Magnificent Seven plays out. Very similar beats.
–Total cliché’, but cool Gatling Gun scene. We’ve seen this shit EVERYWHERE in Westerns – the ‘bad guys’ ALWAYS seem to trundle out the fearsome hand-cranked Gatling Gun at the height of a gun battle, laying waste to everything and knocking our heroes into the dirt, down to their last chance. Exactly the same thing happens here…but it’s pretty awesome!
–D’Onofrio has a Sizemore death. Again going with comparisons to Saving Private Ryan, D’Onofrio’s demise *SPOILERS* comes after he absorbs a shit-ton of punishment in service of the fight, just like Sizmore’s ‘Sgt. Horvath’ did back in ’98.
–Hawke has Pepper death. And AGAIN with the Private Ryan comparisons! Just like in that movie, Hawke’s sharpshooter character *SPOILERS* takes to a bell tower, where he and another character rain gunfire down on enemy…until the Gatling Gun is turned their way. Goodbye!
–Cliché, but well done. This is my summation of the film, pretty much in it’s entirety.
The Blu ray for $5 was worth it. I really enjoyed turning my brain off and just going on this well-crafted and energetic ‘cowboy’ adventure. The cast was great, the production design was admirable and the action scenes were surprisingly good. I do think a harder rating would’ve been nice, but Fuqua pushed PG-13 pretty far with this one, and I’m happy with what I got. If I did have to complain, I would say that, while the movie does move at a good clip, 10-15 minutes shaved off could’ve leaned it up nicely. It is a little long for the story that it’s telling. But aside from that, I had a good time settling back and taking this strangely unnoticed addition to the mostly dormant ‘Western’ genre in. If you like the genre, or just exciting action movies in general that are well produced, give this better-than-it-should-be remake of a remake a try. It was a fun 2 + hours of dramatic Western conflict, gritty gunfights and fiery explosions, all riding on a great cast and solid production design! Check it out!