Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard
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How exactly does one go about remaking a western classic that’s over half a century old, starring the likes of Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson? Well, first, you cast Denzel Washington in the lead role. Director Antoine Fuqua’s decision to reteam with the Oscar winner and have him head up the title’s band of renegade cowboys is the glue that sticks this mismatched bunch together.
Second, it’s going to be pivotal who makes up Denzel’s men, with an array of talent from man of the moment Chris Pratt, to indie vet Ethan Hawke and Kubrick alumni Vincent D’Onofrio. Assembling a new group of gunslingers for a modern audience that aren’t immediately drawn to the genre is the real challenge here, and, on premise and big names alone, Fuqua succeeds. But that’s not to say The Magnificent Seven is a successful film. Regardless of whether an audience will buy into the movie or not, it’s whether its construction can convince us that the characters are worth investing our time in. Generally, that answer seems to be no.
Washington’s Chisolm, a wandering peace keeper/bounty hunter of sorts, takes it upon himself to defend the sanctity of a small town, after widow Emma (Haley Bennett) seeks bloody revenge for the death of her husband at the hands of tyrant Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). But in order to do so, Chisolm must recruit a small army, and it doesn’t get any smaller than half a dozen men by his side – no matter how experienced they are in the art of putting folk in the ground.
What’s noticeable with all these recruits is how two-dimensional they are. Despite a two-hour runtime, we never really learn much about our heroes and any exposition lightly folded into the plot is ham-fisted and ineffective. Most disappointing is Chris Pratt’s Faraday. With Pratt’s breakthrough role as Guardian of the Galaxy’s Star-Lord and being quickly typecast as a comedic, adventurous action hero, it’s difficult to see him as anything else. He’s certainly the most miscast name in the roster, that’s for sure.
Despite the movie’s struggle to keep us engaged during its slower parts, though, when the shooting starts, it’s impossible to avert your gaze. There are only a few of these standout moments, but they do last for a significant time. And that’s what’s frustrating about Fuqua’s film: it’s a bloated, sometimes dull venture that could easily be trimmed down to a slicker 90 minutes, but when that action begins, it’s nothing short of mesmeric.
The Magnificent Seven is another example of Hollywood greenlighting a remake that virtually no one was crying out for (see Ben-Hur as a clearer example of why these things should be left alone). While this lengthy adventure isn’t a total disaster, it’s a mixture of adrenaline-fuelled highs and unevenly paced lows. In half a century’s time, it’s safe to say no one will be talking about it.
The Magnificent Seven is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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