Yet another example of a Hollywood blockbuster with a highly skilled and marketable cast thrown into a roller-coaster ride of action and drama, “The Magnificent Seven” is equally predictable as it is enjoyable. The movie juggles more elements than the typical Western, but many of the film’s themes get lost in director Antoine Fuqua’s attempt to balance the screen time of the movie’s superstars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.
“The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of a remake – its source material, a 1960s Western of the same name, is in turned adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese classic “Seven Samurai.” However, the most recent version does not take full advantage of the opportunity to develop this story in a contemporary setting with more modern themes. Kurosawa’s 1960 original was remade into a Western to translate a storyline about honor, redemption and the perils of battle and vengeance into a different setting. Fuqua’s latest version fails to do the same.
The plot is centered on an unlikely and unwilling hero (Denzel Washington) who rises to save the day by assembling a cast of loyal supporters out of misfits. This narrative is nothing new – numerous franchises have been enormously successful by modifying this model – think Dominic Toretto in “Fast and Furious” or Captain America in Marvel’s “The Avengers.”
Fuqua brings back the actors from his award-winning urban crime thriller “Training Day”: Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. The former plays the role of a bounty hunter who is put in charge of protecting a small town from evil mining mogul Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). He assembles a team of outlaws that includes sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), an old-time friend and tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), an inexplicably high-strung mountain dweller whose conflicted persona is left regrettably unexplored. Chris Pratt’s attempt to emulate the dark, troubled role of gambler Josh Faraday, originally given to Steve McQueen, is met with little success.
Washington dominates in his performance, yet it does not ask nearly enough of his acting abilities. Pratt does his best with the second most screen time, but many of the other stars are lost in an attempt to bring together too many backstories and personal journeys. The past of Hawke’s character, a Civil War general ashamed of his former deeds and sickened by the violence he has endured, is arguably explored the most. However, there is a disconnect in the plot when he suddenly recovers his fighting spirit before the final showdown.
With the blandness of “The Magnificent Seven” and his other movies since “Training Day,” Antoine Fuqua might be a one trick pony after all. While he is not necessarily a bad director, he is certainly a predictable one. His style, dictated by lackluster and riskless scripts, rely on the innate talent of his main actors and the choreography of action sequences. This is obvious in “The Magnificent Seven” and keeps it from truly conveying some of the moral themes it explores.
The film’s attempt to criticize capitalism and industrialization — after Bogue violently seizes the town of Rose Creek in hopes of making a quick dollar — is quickly lost in a premise that very soon becomes focused on personal vengeance instead of righteousness and justice. Likewise, the diverse cast of outlaws that get together to fight off the evil corporate tyrant seems to have a clear purpose, yet little commentary is made in reference to America’s history of profound racial tension. It is difficult to believe a conservative, predominantly white community in the late 1800s would easily accept leadership and protection from an ensemble led by a black man and including a Mexican and a Native American.
Aside from obvious flaws in its plot, “The Magnificent Seven” is still a joy to watch, and its action scenes are well-choreographed. The talented cast, highlighted by the charisma of leading men Pratt and Washington, certainly make this movie worth a watch.