Author: JoAnne Hyde
Date: September 23, 2016

SYNOPSIS: Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures' and Columbia Pictures' The Magnificent Seven. With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople, led by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns - Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.

The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, caught me totally by surprise. The 1960 version starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, is my all-time favorite classic western, so I wasn’t optimistic that a new version could possibly be any good. Luckily, the new film is not so much a re-make as it is a re-imagining of the 1960 version which was itself a re-make of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic The Seven Samurai. It shares the same basic story of peaceful farmers being bullied into submission by a power-hungry villain, but differs greatly in every other way. The result is an exciting, action-filled film with some very competent performances.

Denzel Washington portrays Chisolm, a bounty hunter/gunslinger, who arrives in the town of Rose Creek looking for a couple of at-large felons. Washington definitely has the cool factor to pull off the role and displays an impressive quick-draw and quiet confidence. He soon learns that the town is being terrorized by a robber baron type, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who wants all the land around the town for his gold-mining operations. He “owns” the sheriff and other town officials. His gang of hoodlums stops at nothing, even murder, to achieve his goals.

Chisolm is approached by Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennet), recently widowed by Bogue’s thugs, who wants to hire him on behalf of the other farmers to take out Bogue. At first reluctant, Chisolm takes the job, touched by her courage and determination. He immediately begins recruiting for this suicide mission, knowing that Bogue can raise a veritable army of ruffians.

The first “recruit” is Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a rover and gambler who also possesses a lethal quick-draw. Next, Chisolm offers one of his scofflaws, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), his freedom if he joins the mission. Then, he runs into an old acquaintance, Goodnight Robicheaux (Eathn Hawke) who, these days, makes the rounds of small towns challenging locals to marksman contests with his “protégé” Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) who’s skillful with both knives and guns. Their marginal existence makes them perfect for the team.

Rounding out the seven are two characters they encounter on their way to confront Bogue. The first is a legendary trapper and bounty hunter, John Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), and the second is Red Harvest (Martin Sennsmeier), a lone-wolf Comanche with an innate sense of honor. D’Onofrio successfully uses a high-pitched, wheezy tone to accentuate the eccentricity of his character. Sennsmeier is a native-American of the Tlingit tribe of Southeast Alaska who brings authenticity to his character.

Of course, there will be a final, dramatic confrontation with Bogue’s minions, but before that, Sarsgaard’s Bogue gives the audience plenty of reasons to hate him. Besides wanting to champion the peaceful farmers, Chisolm has a personal reason for wanting to take Bogue down. Therefore, with this peek into his past, the Chisolm character is more developed than the others. With the possible exception of Goodnight Robicheaux, the other characters are mostly one-dimensional. Ethan Hawke brings a certain pathos to Robicheaux who suffers from PTSD from his role as a sharpshooter for the Confederacy in what he calls The War of Northern Aggression.

Chris Pratt clearly has fun with his role and brings humor to the otherwise urgent tone of the film. Hayley Bennett does a fine job of giving her character the grit and toughness needed to find a way to defeat Bogue. Like the others, she’s willing to fight to the death. And, yes, there will be casualties. I won’t reveal who lives and who dies. That’s for you to discover, and depending on how you personally relate with the various characters, you’ll either be satisfied or disappointed.

Modern audiences demand intense action sequences, so that’s what you’ll experience in The Magnificent Seven. I saw it in IMAX, but I don’t think it’s necessary to spring for the extra bucks to enjoy this film. Although it lacks the subtlety and character development of the 1960 version, it’s still an entertaining experience. The 1960 version had a tender love story incorporated into the main story line, but fortunately, Fuqua did not include one in his version; it would not have fit appropriately into this story.

I was also pleasantly surprised that John Horner’s musical score, his last before his accidental death, soars above the vista of the film and pays tribute, without imitating, Elmer Bernstein’s iconic theme from the 1960 version. If you like that version as I do, you’ll hear it during the final credits. - JoAnne Hyde


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