Film: The Magnificent Seven
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’ Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaad
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Gorgeously lensed with panoramic, wide angle long shots of beautiful landscapes, Antoine Fuqua’s remake of John Sturges’s 1960 film which was inspired by Akira Kurosawa 1954 classic ‘The Seven Samurai’ sees him reuniting with his ‘Training Day’ and ‘The Equalizer’ hero Denzel Washington. In his first Western, Washington leads a star ensemble cast reprising the roles immortalised by Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen and Horst Buchholz. Then and now, the titular seven fighting men team up to save a sleepy small town from brutal exploitation.
In this reboot, ruthless Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) replaces 1960’s bloodthirsty bandit to seize control of the small farming community of Rose Creek whose residents find their very lives are in jeopardy. Sniffing a gold mine, Bogue offers to acquire their land for a fraction of the price or else: he will burn a church, slaughter innocents, and degrade them in servitude in the mines.
In desperation, the newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) seeks help from bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) who recruits a motley group of outlaws. Being a Western, this fluidly edited movie is naturally packed with loads of gunfights; the climactic one is a long-drawn out spectacle. But it seems to me, the multi-ethnic characters could have been even more engaging had the narrative shown a deeper investment in them, given their compelling back stories and included, say, run ins between Comanche Indian Red Harvest and Bible thumping Jack Thorne (Vincent D’Onofrio) of Red Indians or between the Unionist Chisholnm and the Confederate Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) who is haunted by nightmares about the many he had killed.
As it happens, the interactions between the Mexican Vaquez (Manuel Garcis Rulfo) and the gambling gringo, Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt) are all too brief. But the seven have all moved on, putting the past behind them. The erudite French speaking Goodnight even has an Oriental knife expert (Billy Rocks) for a confidante and best buddy.
The film, in sum, is about survival after fighting great odds. Some don’t make it of course, but die glorious deaths. Chisholm’s acceptance of Emma’s appeal becomes clear towards the end. Like Emma, he seeks retribution for what he suffered and lost: a mother raped, sisters lynched. His own miraculous survival of Bogue’s noose evokes Nietzche’s statement, “he who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” Intriguingly, the last men standing from the Seven are three ethnic minorities: notwithstanding this bias, Fuqua’s homage to a great classic is well worth a watch.