“The Magnificent Seven”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence, smoking, profanity and suggestive material
Running time: 132 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1954, “Seven Samurai” was a groundbreaking film which had a profound influence on the evolution of cinema for generations to come. Superficially, that seminal work merely reads like a martial arts epic set in 16th Century Japan. Yet, over the years, it has spawned a cottage industry of knockoffs trading in the picture’s novel narrative revolving around a rag-tag team of selfless heroes recruited in service of some lofty goal.
In 1960, “Seven Samurai “was remade as “The Magnificent Seven,” a sprawling Western co-starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn. Today, that classic has been refreshed by Antoine Fuqua in an outing reuniting the director with Denzel Washington following successful collaborations on “The Equalizer” (2014) and “Training Day” (2001) for which the latter won an Academy Award.
This incarnation of “The Magnificent Seven” does feature a few variations on the theme. For example, the picture’s dastardly bad guy is now an avaricious white man intent on seizing a mining town’s gold instead of a Mexican bandito simply staging a series of border raids. And the good guys enlisted to engage the greedy gringo are a politically-correct, rainbow coalition reflecting every ethnicity.
Otherwise, the essence of the original plot remains intact. As the film unfolds, we find the folks in the frontier settlement of Rose Creek living in fear of Bartholomew Bogue and his gang of marauders. Bogue is your stereotypical, bloodthirsty villain, straight out of central casting, played to perfection by Peter Sarsgaard.
It is established early on just how low the diabolical Bogue will stoop to achieve his evil ends, between murdering an innocent woman and burning the church to the ground. That makes the arrival of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) all the more welcome by the time the exasperated and intimidated local yokels are at their collective wit’s end.
They also have no idea that Chisolm isn’t merely motivated by altruism but has his own revenge-fueled reason to tangle with Bogue. Regardless, once deputized, the gunslinger proceeds to assemble a motley crew composed of a Civil War vet suffering from shell shock (Ethan Hawke), a hard-drinking bombmaker (Chris Pratt), a gruff mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Chicano outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a crack Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) and a knife-throwing, Asian assassin (Byung-hun Lee).
Don’t expect any deeply-developed characters and you won’t be disappointed. It’s all about the inexorable march to the big showdown during which the heroes will obviously even the score, and then some. The Wild, Wild West revisited as an ethnically-diverse fantasy land Hollywood has never imagined before!