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Take 2: Can ‘Magnificent Seven’ Live Up To Its Name?

September 29, 2016

Tamara’s Take

If there is one film that could be called the Russian nesting doll of 2016, it would have to be director Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven.” Being the remake of a classic Western that was also a reinterpretation of one of the best foreign films of all time “Seven Samurai,” it has set a high stage for itself. At least it has a good, old-fashioned gunfight.

A small California settlement in the 1870s is being threatened by overbearing robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who gives the dwellers a short deadline to clear out of town or suffer the consequences. That leads a widow (Haley Bennett) to seek the help of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) and a band of misfits to protect what’s theirs. The gang consists of a Confederate veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his quickshot partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a jokester of a gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a wanted Mexican criminal Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a lone Comanche member Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and a bear of a gunman Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). Together, the septet empowers the townspeople to take up arms and defend their land.

While the casting and some of the plot stray from John Sturges’ 1960 feature, director Fuqua maintains some of the classic elements from the old Western. Wide shots of the Californian landscape photographed by Mauro Fiore dazzle the screen and Sharen Davis’ costume design maintains the periodic garb. Simon Franglen and the late James Horner’s score does its best to match Elmer Bernstein’s legendary sound.

What makes “The Magnificent Seven” a good Western to watch is the use of gunfights. In an era where computer-generated scenes occupy more space than actors, Fuqua revives the tricks that fans of the genre love. Washington, Pratt and Garcia-Rulfo appear to have a great time twirling their firearms while battling bad guys, and Fuqua keeps the scenes tight and orderly. Perhaps Fuqua’s background as a music video director helps with keeping the action’s pace at an enjoyable level.

One scene that stands out is Washington’s first appearance as Chisolm. Similar to character introduction in modern Westerns like “Django Unchained” and “Blazing Saddles,” Chisolm stands out because he doesn’t look like the rest of the townsfolk. Something that pushes this feeling is when the locals refer to him as “cowboy” in a bar full of fellas in boots and hats. Cowboys are usually synonymous with the old West, but the word was once believed to have the same negative weight against African Americans as the n-word. It signals that it’s a different type of Western, more inclusive than those of the past.

What lies between the action is not as interesting. Sargaard’s Bogue is more of a villain in words only as his henchmen do the dirty work. Pratt provides some comic relief with his card tricks, similar to the kind found in the original. Hawke and D’Onofrio have the best well-rounded characters, but unfortunately Lee and Sensmeier are given less-interesting roles.

Given the choice between the three films, stick with Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece. It’s the best ode to American Westerns, and Fuqua’s attempt is nothing close to it. “The Magnificent Seven” is not quite the efficient remake it wants to be.

3 out of 5 stars

Rebecca’s Take

In “The Magnificent Seven,” you can bring a knife to a gunfight, and it’s incredibly entertaining.

The remake of the classic 1960 Western corrals a game cast led by the distinguished Denzel Washington into a fun flick that thrives under the stylish direction of Antoine Fuqua. The actioner reinvigorates the Western genre.

In the Old West, savage industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Saarsgard) and his henchmen assail a small mining town. The poor townspeople, led by revenge-seeking widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), seek the help of righteous bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) to beat back the thieves.

Realizing the enormity of the job before him, Chisolm recruits a group of seven gunslingers. Sly gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is deadly with a pistol — or two. Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) can shoot with the best of them. Legendary sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is tormented by the horrors he’s witnessed in the Civil War. Assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) wields knives like it’s second nature. Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is an expert tracker and hunts with his ax. Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) has a firm grip on his bow and arrow.

Together, the men will put everything on the line to defend the town and perhaps find what they’re looking for — revenge or redemption.

“The Magnificent Seven” lassos a storyline similar to the 1960 version and other Westerns — that of a town looking for aid against intruders. But the drama reboots the story and characters so as not to be a straight remake. Fans will recognize throwbacks to some famous lines.

The Western is slick-looking and fast-paced, relying on the stellar chemistry of its leads coupled with remarkable action.

Under Fuqua’s keen eye, the shootouts are intense, thrilling and violent without being bloody. A gun battle shortly after the group arrives whets the appetite for the climactic battle between the town and the bandits. Both standoffs integrate the varied skill sets of each member in the seven.

Bullets, knives and arrows fly with precision and deadly accuracy.

The cast boasts a talented and diverse group. In his imposing black cowboy hat, Washington is a commanding presence as the law enforcement officer with a conscience. The likable Pratt taps into his natural charisma and brings comic relief.

Korean actor Lee is a fantastic addition as Robicheaux’s sidekick, Rocks, and has a funny scene training the townspeople. D’Onofrio is right at home as the eccentric, high-pitched Horne.

Hawke in particular shines as Robicheaux, the only one of the group who Chisolm knew previously. The damaged Goodnight wants to help his friend but is hindered by his personal demons.

On the villagers’ side, we see their burden through the eyes of capable widow Cullen as she mourns the death of her slain husband (Matt Bomer) while working to save her town from his fate. Sarsgaard oozes evil as the slimy villain Bogue.

Though the “The Magnificent Seven” has great characters, it lacks in characterization. With so many leads, not everyone has enough time to be fleshed out. The most striking example is Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez, who is known as little more than “The Mexican.”

“The Magnificent Seven” largely lives up to its name. It’s a worthy remake of the classic Western for a modern era.

4 out of 5 stars