Justice is not really what Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is in the business of providing. He is a bounty hunter who is looking to find fugitives — for a price. So, Chislom is hesitant when he is approached by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to provide righteous justice for the small town of Rose Creek, against the land baron, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).
After hearing the injustice being done against these innocent homesteaders, he decides to act. He recruits a motley bunch of outlaws, outcasts and hired guns to assist the small community. These seven renegades must work with the untrained people of Rose Creek to prepare for an onslaught of mercenaries. As the training commences, preparations are made and the eventual violent showdown comes to fruition. When it does, the intentions of the township and the seven unlikely heroes come to light.
It is a knife’s edge experience to remake an iconic film, especially one that is a Western (a genre that used to be popular but is no longer the mainstay of Hollywood). Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw) has thrown himself into the proverbial director’s crucible by revisiting the much loved The Magnificent Seven (1960). The cast is promising and the story of righteous justice touches on much of the human experience.
So, how does Fuqua’s remake go? The cinematography is beautiful and the adapted script by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto makes up for some of the directorial missteps, but the cast is what will draw in the audience. The ensemble cast presents Fuqua with a rich field of personalities to explore. He works each actor through their paces and does an adequate job of giving to each their needed screen time. Denzel Washington (The Equaliser) proves to be the anchor that grounds the film, by being the calm in the storm. He does not break new ground, but is the right man to personify the spirit of Yul Brynner (the central star of the 1960 original).
Primary support for Washington comes from Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke, who fill their roles effectively and provide the comedic and neurotic elements that pay homage to characters in the earlier version. The surprising stand out of this odd mob is Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World), who continues to prove his amazing range as an actor. His portrayal of the wilderness man Jack Horne brought a fresh levity to this dark interpretation of justice.
Peter Sarsgaard (Knight and Day) gives an admirable performance as the evil land baron, but never quite rises to the villainy needed to carry the role through to the end. There also are others in the cast who don’t get as much time to develop their characters, yet most still served their purpose.
It is not casting that trips up Fuqua in this modern-day Western. The first challenge has to do with present day “political correctness”. In an attempt to reinterpret history and make up for the wrongs of past generations, Fuqua undermines the historical value of the film. Every people group is represented in the seven fighters and, with the addition of a strong female lead, the story is weighed down with too many characters. This aspect is understandable in our politically tenuous times; but the bigger weakness of the film was its poorly executed conclusion.
This outing is darker and grander in scope than the 1960 version. For anyone willing to travel along in hope throughout this newest version, you will be let down by the finish. It can be said that artistically justified violence is at fever pitch, and the poor direction of the final minutes come off as an after-thought — and prove to be less than satisfying.
To say that Fuqua has set himself up for comparison is an understatement. What will determine audience’s favourability of The Magnificent Seven will come down to how familiar people are with the original film. For those who have not seen the 1960 version, they will enjoy seeing some of their favourite present-day actors shoot it out on screen. For the rabid fans of the original and the classic Seven Samurai (which, incidentally, is what the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven is a remake of), this will become a difficult experience to stomach. Regardless of which side you fall out on, if this version is allowed to stand on its own merits; it will make for an entertaining night out at the cinema.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
Where is the line between revenge and justice?
Definition of revenge: to exact punishment or expiation for a wrong on behalf of, especially in a resentful or vindictive spirit.
Definition of justice: the administering of deserved punishment or reward or the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings.
Can you see the difference? Which of these do you seek when someone does you wrong?
Passages on revenge and justice: Leviticus 19:18, Romans 12:19, Isaiah 30:18, Psalm 37: 27-29