The Magnificent Seven, the 1960 version directed by John Sturgis and starring Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and almost every other tough guy actor in Hollywood at the time, is one of those films that was cherished by an entire generation. When it came on TV (this was before VCR’s or DVD’s) that was what I was watching. Not an ambitious film, it was almost perfect in execution, striking the right balance of characterization and action.
Normally this would render re-making it the blackest of sins, but of course that would be silly because it itself is a remake of the Kurosawa masterpiece, The Seven Samurai. And frankly the story has been remade in so many different settings over the years, it has become a classic if not archetypical trope. The story of underdogs standing up to bullies and aging knights girding for one last fight is always going to be stirring. So a remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt is not unwelcome.
It is, unfortunately something short of a triumph. The action is great. There’s a terrific cast. Denzel is always easy to watch, even if he’s just being Denzel as he is here. Chris Pratt has all kinds of charisma and it’s hard not to root for him. Ethan Hawke is terrific as an old Confederate sharpshooter with a dangerous reputation. There really isn’t a bad performance.
But there’s just something that doesn’t resonate. Maybe it’s because westerns have been moribund for so long that we’re deaf to the themes that were once built into them, ideas that came naturally to the filmmakers and audiences of the past and didn’t need much exposition to explain. The idea of samurai or gunslingers, scratching out livings at the end of their romantic eras and looking for one last chance at redemption, is integral to the Seven Samurai plot and Fuqua and his screenwriters, Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto, pretty much ignore that theme. It’s simply not the same.
The film is too long; it could have used a few more passes in the editing room. There was one place at least where I was confused during a transition. I quickly got back into it but the confusion drew me out of the story.
I guess the performances alone make this worth seeing, although you can certainly wait for the DVD release.