“THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN” — 3 stars — Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier; PG-13 (extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material); in general release
“The Magnificent Seven” may be set in the late 19th century, but it says a lot more about where we are in 2016.
From front to back, director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) fills his remake of John Sturges’ 1960 western with harsh sunlight, gorgeous landscapes and a gritty feel that roots his film in familiar territory. The story is a mirror of the original, down to the lifeless black clothing of the protagonist. The tone is a little bit of big screen Hollywood fun, mixed with more dark violence than you might expect. The sum is a solid action-adventure that would have been welcome in 2016’s weak summer season, but steers us into autumn on a brutal note.
The film opens in violent fashion. A wealthy tyrant named Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) wants to turn a humble farming community named Rose Creek into a gold mine, and when they gather in protest, he burns down their church and murders several of their men. Supported by a weak sheriff, Bogue can buy and brutalize his way to whatever he wants.
Emma (Haley Bennett) is the widow of one of Bogue’s victims. She can’t stand by and see her home overrun, so she heads out to recruit some help, eventually hiring seven troubled but talented mercenaries. Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is a warrant officer and the de facto leader of the group who steps into Yul Brenner’s role. Chris Pratt slips into Steve McQueen’s spot as a quick-shooting gambler named Faraday.
There’s also an ex-Civil War sniper named Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a knife and blade specialist named Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), an Everest of a mountain man named Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), and a lone Comanche warrior named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). A Mexican named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) rounds out the group after Chisolm agrees to forget about the bounty on his head once the job is done.
Once the motley crew arrives in Rose Creek, they clear the existing group of so-called lawmen in dramatic fashion. Then, just like in the original, their challenge is to prepare a rag-tag group of farmers to defend their home for the inevitable showdown with Bogue.
Fuqua’s seven are more ethnically diverse, and Rose Creek is populated with pioneer settlers rather than Mexican villagers. His film is also considerably more violent, though never gory enough to challenge “The Magnificent Seven’s” PG-13 rating. There’s also a strong undercurrent of religious imagery, primarily in the form of the burned-out church that anchors the movie, and is the site of action long after Bogue sets fire to it during the opening scene.
Though a remake of the Sturges film (which itself was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film “Seven Samurai”), “The Magnificent Seven” also bears some similarities to Lawrence Kasdan’s “Silverado,” the early 1980s western that also used a multi-ethnic cast to explore the old west. Anyone familiar with Kasdan’s film will appreciate the visuals of Fuqua’s final showdown, which exploits those religious undertones to maximum effect.
With so many characters, even beyond the titular seven, “The Magnificent Seven” doesn’t have a lot of time to develop deep backstories. But what little we have is suitable to draw us along. The cast feels like a tactful blend of the reliable (Washington), the relatively new (Pratt), and the brand-new (Bennett, who echoes Jennifer Lawrence in both looks and demeanor).
Antoine Fuqua’s "The Magnificent Seven" won’t make longtime fans forget the 1960 Sturges original, but it is a tense and dramatic western that feels like a perfect reflection of a violent 2016.
“The Magnificent Seven” is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material; running time: 132 minutes.