‘The Magnificent Seven’ surpasses the original in every regard, especially its movie stars

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“Hey Denzel, wanna see a card trick?”
Image: sony/mgm

The remake is one of the oldest tricks in the Hollywood playbook. What better way to prey upon our weakness for nostalgia than repackaging the same story with new stars and updated visual effects? The cynical among us expected Antoine Fuquas old-but-new western The Magnificent Seven to pale in comparison to John Sturges 1960 classic, which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawas vastly superior Seven Samurai.

Well, fortunately, the doubters were wrong.

The new Magnificent Seven improves upon the original in just about every regard, from its direction, pacing and action to its characters, casting and performances. The new film may not have its own iconic score courtesy of Elmer Bernstein, though it does borrow the rousing earlier theme, even if it’s not often enough for my liking.

Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt inherit the lead roles from Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, and they deliver exactly what you expect from two of the biggest movie stars on the planet cowboys with a mischievous glint in their eye and glistening white teeth amid all the dust and the dirt. As sturdy as the leads are, the most interesting characters are the men around them, played by Ethan Hawke, Vincent DOnofrio, Byung-hun Lee and relative newcomers Martin Sensmeier and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.

The Seven are called upon by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), who watches as her husband is gunned down during the films opening scene by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), a mustache-twirling (figuratively) robber baron determined to pillage a community of non-violent farmers living on a literal gold mine. Bogue isnt exactly a people person, saying of the townsfolk, if God didnt want them sheared, he wouldnt have made them sheep.

After offering duty-sworn warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Washington) everything of value that the town still has, Emma says shes seeking righteousness, but will settle for revenge. The rising actress impresses as the Sevens would-be eighth member, who wrestles with the fact that she may have invited more death to her town by hiring Chisolm and his men. Despite Chisolms protestations that hes not for sale, he soon finds himself rounding up a posse to do whats right and not only protect the town, but help them defend themselves.

The ragtag group includes Hawkes haunted sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, who struggles with the bottle and his own self-doubts (hes a legend, but is that all he is?), as well as his trusted confidant Billy Rocks (Lee), who gets a killer intro that sees him drop a dude with just his hairpin.

We also meet Mexican drifter Vasquez (Garcia-Rulfo), a Comanche warrior named Red Harvest (Sensmeier, making a strong impression) who’s more than proficient with a bow and arrow, and legendary mountain man Jack Horne (DOnofrio), who prefers to do his damage up close and personal. DOnofrios high-pitched squeak of a voice, however inconsistent, is an interesting decision for this bear of a man.

Pratt is clearly having a blast here as Josh Faraday, a smooth-talking gunslinger with a knack for card tricks. The Guardians of the Galaxy star also adds some levity to this gritty world with well-timed comic relief.

Meanwhile, no one brings steel-eyed gravitas quite like Denzel, whos fairly reined in here as the Sevens stoic yet fearless leader. Throughout the film, Washington’s Chisolm is wrestling with history, reminding his men to fight the battle in front of us, not behind us and that what we lost in the fire, well find in the ashes. Fuqua doles out the characters backstory in bits and pieces, but its enough to make a personal revelation during the climactic final showdown that much more satisfying.

And what a showdown it is. Following lots of gun-twirling foreplay, the film ends in a 30-minute hail of bullets and dynamite, where clever one-liners drop like bodies.

It’s to Fuqua’s credit that while there are hints of attraction between Pratt and newly-widowed Bennett, the film wisely resists this romantic subplot. Fuqua also does a good job incorporating themes of religion and redemption into this remake, which is bookended by scenes in a church, including the end where one character makes another beg for forgiveness and pray for his past victims.

At approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, the film overstays its welcome a bit, but its a true crowdpleaser that surpasses the original and serves as a fun launch to the Toronto International Film Festival.

One final note. It must be said that while The Magnificent Seven is rated PG-13, at least 100 men are shot and/or blown up in this film, and the idea that gun violence is more suitable for teenagers than two fucks in a comedy like Dont Think Twice proves just how backward and broken the MPAA really is. It makes no sense, but it doesnt have to as long as it makes money, which this movie surely will. Magnificent, indeed.

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