THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN"
The Magnificent Seven is the latest entry in a category we'll call “Why Did This Need To Be Remade?” (Ben-Hur and Point Break are other recent titles in the category.) The 1960 original, which starred Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, is one of the most popular Westerns of all time. It was never a likelihood that anyone would improve upon it. This new version seems to have been created with the idea that the story could be retold with higher-octane action sequences. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) certainly makes the most of that approach. Even if there's no especially compelling reason for the movie to exist, it's still solidly made and quite fun.
In the film, ruthless industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) plots to take over and mine the tiny town of Rose Creek, much to the chagrin of its residents. After Bogue murders her husband, townswoman Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to exact revenge. He assembles a team of gunslingers and outlaws, including wisecracking magic aficionado Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt), traumatized war veteran Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), and religious zealot Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) to join him. The other members are Asian blade master Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a “Texican” named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a Comanche skilled with bow and arrow.
What you may have noticed there is that some of the group members are portrayed by well-known actors, others by less familiar names. This is reflected in the film itself. Characters played by big stars are fully developed, while the others are one-dimensional window dressing. It's a shame because Billy Rocks, in particular, is rather interesting and has a lot of room for growth. It would have been nice if all seven were as magnificent as Chisolm, Faraday, and Robicheaux.
That said, all the actors are good in their roles. Oftentimes, modern Westerns tend to feel a little like excuses for stars to play dress-up. Not here. There's real commitment to making everybody feel as authentic as possible. Washington finds yet another fresh spin for his trademark intensity, turning Chisolm into a laconic, yet dedicated crusader for justice. Pratt brings a welcome dose of comic relief, and Hawke shows the interior anguish that Robicheaux perpetually experiences. Haley Bennett, meanwhile, does a lot with her role, infusing Emma with such genuine emotion that she transcends the stock nature of the lone significant female character.
The action sequences are where The Magnificent Seven shines the most. The last thirty-five minutes are essentially one big set piece wherein Chisolm and the gang execute their plan to take on Bogue, even though he has them vastly outnumbered. Fuqua stages the scene with all the requisite mayhem, yet avoids the temptation to edit things so rapidly that we lose track of what's happening. The balance here is pretty good, which goes a long way toward maintaining our interest. A few individual moments feel more action movie-ish than what people in the Old West would have conceived or done when taking on someone of Bogue's menace. Then again, this is a movie, so that's something for which it can be forgiven.
The Magnificent Seven has no real substance, meaning, or depth. It simply is what it is: a breezy Western adventure with a bunch of name actors. On that level, it works. Even at 132 minutes, the film moves along rapidly, pulling you in with good performances and well-executed action scenes. It isn't the greatest Western ever made, or even the best one of recent years, but it's absolutely satisfying pop entertainment.
( out of four)
The Magnificent Seven is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material. The running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.
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