Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven Is The First Modern-Day MGM Remake That's Actually Good

MGM, in their post-bankruptcy state, has been going through their library of titles and remaking everything so exhaustively, it'd be amazing if the remakes typically weren't so forgettable. A RoboCop remake came and went without any fanfare and (like most moviegoers) I never even saw their Poltergeist and Ben-Hur remakes. Before the studio embarks on a Death Wish remake starring Bruce Willis that'll start filming at the end of the month, we have their latest remake of a well-known MGM from decades past (with the original film itself being a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai), The Magnificent Seven.

This new incarnation of the classic western action film reunites Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua from Training Day and The Equalizer. Washington plays Chisholm, a warrant officer whose mighty handy with a pistol whose hired by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), a woman whose town has been overtaken by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his nefarious henchmen. Chisolm takes the job and begins to recruit a group of gun-slingers to take on their adversaries. Joining him are Josh (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio).

The group travel over to the town and try to train the passive townspeople, in just the span of a week, to become fighters so they can help the titular Magnificent Seven take back their land from Bartholomew Bogue. It's clearly a simple premise that the film keeps more streamlined so that it can rest on the laurels of the charisma of its two lead actors (Washington and Pratt) as well as the presence of plenty of horseback action. It's a smart storytelling-based decision in some respects, but it also leaves the film feeling more than a tad lacking in the department of substance. Namely, we never get a sense of how the villagers feel about the actions occurring around them, which means someone like, say, Emma Cullen has nothing to do besides hang around in the background.

Luckily, leaning heavily on the screen presence of the two leads and western action set pieces isn't a bad idea since both of those elements do manage to be highlights of the film. Denzel Washington, at this point in his career, is as snug as a bug in a rug when it comes to playing easy-going everyman who can also be an action hero at the drop of a hat while Pratt is similarly super assured when taking on the persona of a comedic bad-ass. The duo play well off each other and their five co-stars, particularly Washington and Hawke's chemistry as old friends (which is amusing to me considering I just saw the two in Training Day) and Vincent D'Onofrio's extremely lovable turn as the soft-spoken but violent member of the group.

If only certain individuals like Red Harvest and Vasquez got more to do in the movie than just be the butt of jokes at the expense of their ethnicities, but at least the majority of the group has an organic chemistry to it that's allowed to simmer and grow over the course of the movie, this is most certainly not a Suicide Squad situation where the group of protagonists just become friends abruptly because the plot demands it. It also must be stressed that director Antoine Fuqua is much more adept at handling large-scaling action than he was in the dreadful Olympus Has Fallen. There's a clarity to the action sequences that allows the more character-oriented nature of such set pieces to be clearly visible and potent. Even the weird erratic editing that tends to show up in the directors work is less prominent here, though it does rear its head at certain points in the film, most notably in an early scene where Emma is watching Chisholm is talking to a group of individuals before she properly introduces herself to him.

We've had a surprisingly large slew of westerns recently that has managed to drop a couple of classics like Slow West, The Hateful Eight and True Grit. The Magnificent Seven doesn't join that list, but it's the first movie I've seen from director Antoine Fuqua to actually be fun to watch, there's a playfulness to the broad nature of the characters (this is a movie where bad guys and good guys are as clearly broadly drawn as can be) and the game cast plays ball with that approach in a winning fashion. The lack of depth here becomes a detriment in pretty clear ways, no doubt about it, but at least The Magnificent Seven knows where its strengths lies and uses said strengths well to solid results.

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