sat 25/05/2019

The Magnificent Seven | reviews, news & interviews

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven

They are undoubtedly seven, but are they magnificent?

Mercenary territory: Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) and his band of renegades

As we know, Hollywood loves a remake, and John Sturges's original Magnificent Seven from 1960 is now venerable enough to be a complete blank to contemporary yoof. But while Sturges's tale of mercenaries defending a Mexican village from bandits had itself been adapted from Kurosawa's classic tale of 16th century Japan, Seven Samurai, this new Magnificent Seven merely moves the action north of the border to the badlands of the Old West.

It's 1879, and we find ourselves in the isolated town of Rose Creek, a rickety settlement with a church, a saloon and the usual collection of old-timers, whores and unwashed-looking bartenders and gamblers. Into this unprepossessing 'burg stalks the lucre-crazed industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, pictured below), an early adopter of Gordon Gekko's "greed is good" philosophy who aims to run the locals out of town so he can mine all the local gold. He makes them an offer they can't accept, whereupon he and his private Einsatzgruppe of thugs burn down the church and massacre the townsfolk.

His big mistake is to shoot the husband of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), because it is she who organises a whip-round and sets out to hire some help to save Rose Creek from Bogue's marauders. "I seek righteousness, but I'll take revenge," she points out. She meets bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who's prone to making iconic appearances riding in from the distance with mountains and the setting sun behind him. Sam agrees (albeit monosyllabically and seemingly for no especially good reason) to assemble a troupe of gunmen, and... that's roughly it, plot-wise, except for about 70 minutes of explosions, shootings and tumbling bodies and horses.

Director Antoine Fuqua (who previously made Training Day and The Equalizer with Washington) is apparently a big fan of Westerns, but while this is a solid effort it wouldn't dream of tearing up the archaic conventions of the genre. Thus, there's a lengthy passage where Chisolm goes through the ritual of recruiting the remaining Magnificent Six, and another set-piece where the lads – Ms Cullen (pictured below with Chris Pratt) being the solitary female in this prairie of testosterone – teach the clueless townsfolk which way round to hold a rifle. There are jocular shenanigans, too, with the Seven's Home Alone-style booby traps for Bogue's henchmen.

Let's face it, there's no mystery about how it's all going to end, but Fuqua does at least divert us with his rainbow coalition of Western misfits. Chris Pratt broadcasts waves of laconic cool as gamblin' gunslinger Josh Faraday, Vincent D'Onofrio delivers a typically twitchy, squeaky turn as the bear-like tracker Jack Horne, and Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a legendary sharpshooter from the Civil War now suffering from post-traumatic stress. At the exotic end of the scale are the knife-throwing Asian assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) and a kind of tie-dyed Comanche warrior, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

Washington, meanwhile, merely broods charismatically. He's becoming Clint-like in his ability to exert control while remaining still and silent, and has that Tom Hanks thing where you can put him in anything and he'll quietly mould himself into the role. Not even the late arrival of Bogue's awesomely destructive Gatling gun ("the Devil's Breath") can throw him off his stride.

Maybe it's impossible to make classic Westerns any more. We'd probably need to unlearn lots of stuff we think we know first. This isn't one, but it would certainly fill some time on a long flight, or on your iPad in the middle of a sleepless night.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Magnificent Seven

Washington is becoming Clint-like in his ability to exert control while remaining still and silent

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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