Released: September 2016
A Magnificent Seven remake was always going to be a risky move.
Firstly, there’s the fact that there is currently a growing communal joy in hating remakes, the ubiquitous cry of “they’ve ruined my childhood” regardless of the fact the original film will still be there for anyone to enjoy at their leisure.
Secondly, whilst the original has unchallenged status as a classic film, not that many people who weren’t around to see it first time have necessarily actually seen it. It’s one of those films that everyone can quote a bit from, and say something sage about Yule Brenner or Steve McQueen’s roles, but compared to the number of people who talk like they’ve seen it, the actual tally is surprisingly low. This could go either of two ways for this new film- either people can go see it and say “of course it’s not as good as the original” but still enjoy it and save face. Alternatively, is it possible that plenty of people haven’t watched the original because, well… they don’t want to? Aren’t we now a more sophisticated audience? Don’t we want more complexity in our films than the good guy/bad guy dynamic prevalent in old westerns? Isn’t the hero riding into town to save the day all just a bit passé for our modern tastes?
It turns out, no. The Magnificent Seven is stuffed with clichés, heroes so heroic that the patina of bad they have can’t stop the good shining through, villains so bad they practically cackle and villagers so poor but fundamentally honest it’s like they’re from a Dickens novel, but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.
There’s no huge change to the overall plot of the original, which was of course borrowed in the first place from Seven Samurai, but there are a few superficial tweaks, most notably to the diversity in the cast. Rather pleasingly, director Antoine Fuqua says the new casting was not due to any need to be seen to be diverse, but rather a desire to more accurately reflect the old West as it was. There’s obviously nothing wrong with being diverse simply to be diverse, but the multi-cultural nature of the cowboy scene is rarely acknowledged, so it’s nice to see it being discussed outside of academia.
For those who don’t know, it’s the ultimate Western storyline: A man arrives in town and saves the day. It’s just this time there’s 7 men, a disparate bunch with a variety of motives for doing this deed.
The characters more or less exactly match those from the original film, which in both films leaves them feeling a little one-dimensional: The Leader, The Greedy One, The Coward etc. However, with only just over 2 hours to introduce 7 main characters, having these short hand personality quirks might be the best way of ensuring the audience easily remembers who is who.
All the cast pull their weight, with newcomer Martin Sensmeier deserving particular credit for holding his own as Red Harvest amongst such experienced colleagues. A rather plodding performance from Denzel Washington works well against the energy Chris Pratt brings, who is clearly having a ball playing the feckless gambler Josh Faraday, and Ethan Hawke also does an excellent job as Goodnight Robicheaux, a crack-shot ex-confederate soldier who can’t admit to suffering from crippling PTSD. The character I probably most enjoyed though was that of Jack Horne, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, a huge mountain man with a disarming falsetto and a religious conviction that makes him utterly terrifying.
There’s some enjoyable banter in the set up, some ridiculously stylish and fun set pieces in the show-down and the whole thing feels like a romp through the old days of films. It is, however, ultimately forgettable. I mean, you’ll look back and have a feeling when you try to remember it, a kind of satisfied ‘yeah’ from the pit of your stomach, but you won’t really recall any of it. It’s a film that’s there for the instant, gratifying sugar rush, and should be enjoyed only as such. To make this kind of thing your staple film diet would definitely rot the brain.