Saturday, September 24, 2016

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: Not The Most Magnificent Remake But A Purty Good Time

Now playing at a multiplex near everyone:


(Dir. Antoine Fuqua, 2016)

How much of a remake exactly is Antoine Fuqua’s new familliarly titled western?

Well, it shares the same name with John Sturges’ 1960 American classic, which was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese classic SEVEN SAMURAI, and it has basically the same premise, but the names have been changed and one of the film’s principal leads, Chris Pratt, has said that “it’s probably a lot more ‘Wild Bunch’ than ‘Magnificent Seven.’

And there’s also that Washington, the film’s star in his third collaboration with the director, has said that he’s never seen the original.

So, after taking it in, I consider Fuqua’s film to be a re-imagining of an established title in the wake of more modernist takes on the western genre, like say Quentin Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT, but despite its black lead, it’s a pretty old fashioned affair without a single N-word in ear range.

In its prologue, we are introduced to the villain, industrialist Bartholomew Bogue, perfectly played by Peter Sarsgaard at his most sinister, as he crashes a small town meeting in the fictional Rose Creek which is supposed to be in the desert of Texas, but we know it’s Louisiana with a bit of Arizona mixed in because you’ve got to have Monument Valley in every Western. Bogue’s goons kill people, including the protesting husband (Matt Bomer) of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), the film’s only female lead.

Seeking revenge, Emma rounds up a posse made up of Washington as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, Pratt as gambler Josh Farraday, Ethan Hawke as the grizzled sharp sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, a delightfully drunk Vincent D'Onofrio as tracker Jack Horne, Byung-hun Lee as assassin Billy Rocks, Martin Sensmeier as Commanche warrior Red Harvest, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Mexican outlaw Vasquez, to take down Bogue.

The crew outfits the town by digging trenches, rigging explosives, and equipping the townspeople with guns in a way that heavily recalls ¡THREE AMIGOS! more than its actual source material, for the movie’s massive shoot ‘em up climax.

That’s basically it plot-wise. It’s ultimately a Denzel Washington indestructible bad ass scenario crossed with a Chris Pratt action comedy under a commercial western banner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that as there are plenty of laughs and quickfire thrills on screen.

Fuqua and Washington have done good work previously in the 2001 cop drama TRAINING DAY, which also featured Hawke and won Washington a long deserved Osccar, and in the 2014 action thriller THE EQUALIZER (another remake!), and the third time definitely has its charms here, but don’t expect any awards season activity this time.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN ’16 is a good not great update * of one of the principles study subjects of Westerns 101. It’s a solid piece of pop entertainment, but it doesn’t go very deep – don’t go looking for fully fleshed out characters or new takes on time worn plot devices - nor does it justify political interpretations (don’t give me any the villain symbolizes Trump tripe). “I just wanted to see Denzel Washington on a horse” Fuqua has been quoted as saying in more than one interview.

Maybe more than anything else, this film succeeds as a forum for that sure to become iconic image, but the rest of it is a purty good time as well.

“Good not great update” is a registered trademark of Film Babble Blog (see the GHOST BUSTERS 16 review for one of many examples).

More later...

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