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'The Magnificent Seven' worth a shot

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Western remake features engaging action, talented ensemble

The cinematic Western has been making a bit of a comeback in recent years. There have been some critically-lauded offerings - last year's Best Picture-nominated 'The Revenant,' for example, or this year's celebrated 'Hell or High Water' that have helped the genre regain some of its once-massive cachet.

Director Antoine Fuqua is making (well, remaking) his own journey into the American West with 'The Magnificent Seven,' a remake of the 1960 favorite that was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's seminal 1954 masterpiece 'Seven Samurai.' He's also teaming up with Denzel Washington for a third time, following their collaborations on 'Training Day' and 'The Equalizer.'

Fuqua's 'Seven' might not quite manage to fully capture the spirit of the source material, it does render the story in broad, blockbuster strokes. The reality is that while some of the subtlety of the original is lost, the bombastic nature of the story and of the characters goes a long way toward creating an engaging and extremely watchable cinematic energy.

The small town of Rose Creek is under siege at the hands of the Bogue mining company, led ruthlessly by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsagaard, 'Black Mass'), an amoral businessman who is willing to do anything including take over the whole town to advance his mining interests.

After threats are issued and tragedy strikes, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, 'Hardcore Henry') rides out with her friend Teddy (Luke Grimes, 'Fifty Shades of Grey') to try and hire gunfighters who will come to Rose Creek and help the townspeople take up arms against Bogue's forces.

It all starts when they find Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington, 'The Equalizer') after he has executed a warrant on a fugitive. Chisolm is a lawman of sorts a warrant officer but he is moved by the plight of Rose Creek (and a not-insignificant amount of money) and agrees to lead the fight. But of course, he can't do it alone.

So he starts putting the team together.

First up is the rakish, snide and quick-on-the-draw Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, 'Jurassic World'). Next comes the Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, 'Term Life') and the team of broken-down Cajun sharpshooting legend Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, 'In a Valley of Violence') and his knife-wielding Asian partner Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee, 'Misconduct'). And the team is filled out by an aging and spiritually-inclined former Indian hunter named Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio, TV's 'Daredevil') and a young Comanche warrior named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier, 'Lilin's Brood') on a quest to find his path.

These seven ride into town, serving as the only hope for the people of Rose Creek. They're in for a hell of a fight, but that fight is the only hope that these citizens have of getting out from under Bogue's wicked, exploitative thumb and living in peace. Or living at all, really.

Sure, 'The Magnificent Seven' is a remake of a remake of a remake, but the degradation in quality is less than you might think. In many ways, it feels like a leftover from the summer; it has that blockbuster feeling in terms of production values and the talent involved. The film has a stunning look, offering up some beautifully saturated shots that really elicit the entrancing aesthetic of the American frontier.

With the film basically serving as a noble revenge narrative whose good guys sport antihero tendencies, we've got something that is basically the center of the Antoine Fuqua Venn diagram particularly since Denzel is in it. Fuqua excels at telling this kind of story, right down to the intense violence that is also surprisingly grounded; the gunfight sequences (of which there are many) are over-the-top kinetic and a blast to watch.

And man oh man that cast.

I have had relatively few cinematic experiences that were more satisfying than Cowboy Denzel Washington. His effortless cool is custom-made for a film and a role like this. He's dynamic and charismatic, the sort of guy you buy as a leader of men. For as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Denzel Washington is going to be awesome at playing badass dudes with tragic pasts. We don't get to see him go full movie-star as often as we might like, so it's nice to see he's still got it.

The rest of the guys aren't slouches, by the way. Pratt's presence brings an undeniable energy to the proceedings; his sharp wit has blended with his new action-hero sensibility to make Faraday both the comic relief AND the emotional foundation for the film. Hawke is good, albeit seemingly underwritten as the tortured Goodnight; it feels like some of his story might have hit the cutting room floor. And D'Onofrio's work always underrated - is the best kind of transformational here; Jack Horne is a fascinating character. The rest of the Seven Garcia-Rulfo, Lee, Sensmeier all get their moments, but definitely serve in secondary capacities. And other than Bennett, most of the Rose Creek folks tend to blend together into a blur of frightened citizenry.

'The Magnificent Seven' doesn't quite warrant the superlative in its title - it isn't the movie that the original was, and it certainly isn't the equal of something like 'Seven Samurai.' But with Washington leading a talented and willing ensemble and Fuqua filtering Western tropes through his own unique filmmaking sensibilities, the end result is an entertaining, engaging piece of popcorn cinema.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:36


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