Nutshell: With Seven Samurai and Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven as it’s pedigree, Mag7 had its work cut out for it. And there’s a whole lot of action packed fun to be had. But even with excellent performances all around, this film doesn’t seem to know how to get close to the quality and characterizations that made the first two films such classics. Saddle up for fun, but leave your expectations of more at home. Grade: B
“Money for blood’s a peculiar business.”
Story: Very Bad Man wants to take land rich with gold from the settlers that live on it…by any means necessary. One woman decides to fight for her town, and hires 7 stone-cold killers to help. I’m sure mediation will be the rule of the day.
Genre I’d put it in: Modern Day Hark-back Western
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and a remake of John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven.
Gotta say: With the fun and good natured bromance vibe of 1960’s The Magnificent Seven, and the bloodshed of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Mag7 is a helluva lot of fun. But I wouldn’t call it deeply meaningful. Director Antonie Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day) definitely knows how to balance serious, goofy, and tragic moments, in order to make a film that flows smoothly. And who doesn’t love the We Are The World casting, that paints a more inclusive (but still honest) representation of the Wild Wild West? Unfortunately, all the fine balance and quality performances from his cast can’t make Fuqua’s film come together as anything more than an edge-of-your-seat diversion. Not bad, but it could have been so much more.
Let’s dig into what’s best, shall we? Like that cinematography. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Avatar) captures the look and feel of those classic, sweeping Technicolor vistas, full of beauty and grit. And yet fine detail – like the stunning silver knives Billy Rocks has in his belt – is just as gorgeous. Things go from gorgeous to fun quickly; getting the band together feels like a 19th Century buddy comedy, but with more blood and less soap (I’m guessing; c’mon now, how would they shower during days on the range?) There’s also honest interaction between the different colors and creeds, and while some PC Police may clutch their pearls – “Oh God, we got a Mexican” – it fits into the narrative well, and the actors deliver those lines with tongue-in-cheek abandon.
While Denzel rides a horse like a freakin’ stuntman, Chris Pratt gets the award for Bestest Cowboy Look, with his Eastwood-esque squint and cheroot. Pratt doesn’t steal the show, but he does make it damn entertaining. And every time he’s on screen with Faraday’s know it all grin, it’s a little more fun. Definitely a good thing in-between all the bloodshed.
And there’s a helluva lot of bloodshed. This is a tribute western that may share the name of the Sturges classic, but has echoes 0f Peckinpah all over it. People don’t die here as much as they get mowed down with precision-point abandon. Perhaps that’s why, even at over two hours, the characterization of these townsfolk – and the Seven themselves – feel like a 50s western movie’s building facade. There’s an impressive first introduction, and maybe even a little touch here and there around the sides. But beyond that, these characters are just propped up by two-by-fours and the goodwill of their action-loving audience.
That doesn’t mean that the performances aren’t good; far from it. Denzel Washington as
Bass Reeves Chisolm, the founder of the group, is a cold, calculating so-and-so with a heart of gold (and more than a little bit more at stake than just helping out the locals.) Vincent D’Onofrio could go either way as his high voiced whack-a-doo huntsman Jack Horne, but I loved how D’Onofrio went all in with his character without going full nutter. Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight “Angel of Death” Robicheaux manages to be a stone cold killer and a man suffering from the weight of way too many deaths at his hands. And while Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier are lower on the ensemble totem pole as knife aficionado Billy Rocks, “Wanted Dead of Alive” killer Vasquez, and renegade Cherokee Red Harvest? They each get a moment or two to shine. But what none of the Seven get is that deep dig into their characters that made Seven Samurai and the original Seven such a gut-punch when things start to go down. It’s more “oh, darn. That stinks” rather than the “Nononono – NOOOO!” of those earlier films.
And that’s the missing piece here. Yes, the bad guy is really bad. Peter Sarsgaard as money hungry Bartholomew Bogue does bad things, and is just plain icky. But there’s no real menace beyond Sarsgaard’s ability to ooze villany. It’s an almost clinical evil here, even when we find out [SPOILER] at the film’s climax. That could have really been a heart-in-throat moment for viewers, and the actors do their best. But with no real connection to these characters, it doesn’t have the heft of a real OMG climactic moment. So munch your popcorn, pretend your soda is sarsaparilla, and enjoy the shoot-em-up. It’s just not gonna be much more beyond that.
#Protip: The late James Horner contributed seven amazing songs to this film’s soundtrack before he passed away, making this score his final contribution to film. But movie fans will notice a tip of the hat to Elmer Bernstein’s amazing score for the original film.