The Magnificent Seven
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Opens September 23
Coming to the 1960 Seven Samurai remake The Magnificent Seven later in life, it strikes me as a big-time Dad Movie: Handsome widescreen cinematography, great scenery, tough-guy actors, slightly poky, very few women. The new Antoine Fuqua/Denzel Washington version, then, is like a 90s alterna-rock band covering a great song from the classic-rock era: Unnecessary, sure, but not quite blasphemy. It may well turn into the runtier version of a Dad Movie, which is to say a movie that plays on FX (formerly TNT) in constant rotation a few years after its release.
It is also, due respect, the nicest-looking movie Antoine Fuqua has ever made—though a part of me would have liked to see a version that actually did attempt some blasphemy, and/or make the East/West fluidity of the original project more explicit, by copping the hybridized music video/kung-fu aesthetic of Fuqua’s first film, The Replacement Killers. But no, this version of Magnificent Seven is mostly respectful as it engages in some subtle race-flipping. In 1960, it was white and white-ish guys banding together to save a Mexican village; this time, Denzel Washington leads a slightly more diverse group of gunslingers to protect a village full of white folks, led by a vengeful widow (Haley Bennett, who here seems like the answer to a very specific studio-head bark: “Get me Jennifer Lawrence’s bone structure!”).
Fuqua obviously relishes the sight of his Training Day star on horseback, giving him a hidden-face movie-star intro. He brings along the other half of Training Day‘s duo, though Ethan Hawke plays third banana to gambler Chris Pratt. Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier round out the seven, and while they’re given nominal specialties, their personalities rarely go deeper than their weapons of choice: knives, bow and arrow, but mostly guns—lots of guns. There’s a lot of charisma but not much characterization; Washington is in relaxed-pro mode, and even the charms of newly minted hotshot Chris Pratt feel a little lightweight—though on the opposite end of the spectrum from lightweight, D’Onofrio, rocking a pinched mountain-man voice and a glorious beard, certainly makes an impression. Almost all of these characters are introduced via violent showdowns; a whole batch of extras are killed just to establish the Seven’s collective toughness. Hawke’s whole character arc even involves him re-learning how to murder righteously.
Still, as far as Fuqua’s movies go, this one aspires to respectability. There are verbal references to the original (a joke about “so far, so good” gets a nice callback) and a few bits of colorful dialogue that may be attributable to co-writer Nic Pizzolatto of True Detective (and again, I find myself guiltily wishing for the more blasphemous version that would recast Magnificent Seven as one of Pizzolatto’s bleakly funny, self-pitying masculinity dirges). Fuqua composes some gunfighter tableaux that pay tribute to the compositions in the earlier film, and his extended action finale delivers a certain type of goods—not a shoot-out for the history books, but a pretty exciting multi-plane showdown. Yet much of the new Magnificent Seven is curiously forgettable, sometimes even a little dull. The unofficial cowboys and outlaws played by Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy or Denzel in any number of Tony Scott movies have more pizazz than this bunch. The Competent Seven makes for higher-end Fuqua, but middling even by Dad Movie standards.