I have always thought if a movie is being remade, it better top the original or be a marked departure from its predecessor. John Huston’s version of “The Maltese Falcon” was different from the Roy Del Ruth original in tone and it had Humphrey Bogart. There were plenty of similarities, but both worked even though the remake was superior, in my opinion. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is better than the Vince Vaughn remake in every measurable way. Somewhere between Huston’s successful re-interpretation and Vaughn’s epic failure is Antoine Fuqua’s solid, watchable “The Magnificent Seven.”
Yes, I’m aware, as is everyone on the planet, that the original “Magnificent” was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai,” one of my all-time favorite films. Fuqua succeeds in not trying to copy the masterwork that is the source material and instead make a modern version of a western. There is a look and feel to westerns that John Ford and Sam Peckinpah had in their DNA. Fuqua either has it, too, or he is a very good student. Either way, the latest incarnation feels right. It looks good. It moves at a decent pace.
This time around, the town of Rose Creek is under the iron fist of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, solid in an eviler than evil role). Out of desperation, the townsfolk recruit the available knights to slay the dragon that is Bogue. Since time is short and the unimpeachable character of people willing to fight for a defenseless town is in short supply, they take what they can get. Gunslingers, bounty hunters and outlaws make up the seven, and they look more than ready for the hail of bullets that are certainly coming their way.
Fuqua makes a few tweaks to the story and gives Denzel Washington room to fill the screen with a convincing portrayal of Chisolm, the de facto leader of the team ready to meet Bogue on the field of honor. Chris Pratt as the drunken gunslinger Faraday, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee all put in performances worthy enough
to be proud of including on their resumes. The key to the film’s success are Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne and Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest. D’Onofrio is burly, hairy and all sorts of rugged. You can practically smell the musk when he is on screen. Sensmeier plays the role of Native-American warrior predictably, but well. Someone joked that the cast was “the Diversity Seven,” well, perhaps that’s true. What it also is, however, is a funny, action-packed film that is worth your time.
By the time the two sides meet in bloody combat, the good bad guys have earned the investment of your time and the bad bad guys that want to crush the blissful rural locale, you’re expecting a bloodbath. Without divulging any plot spoilers, I can say that the drama has built to the pay-off in the third act and Fuqua has pulled you into a world as dirty and nuanced as the films that preceded this one.