A Hornery Exit.
As a big fan of the original – a staple of many Bank Holiday afternoons in my youth – I was prepared to be sniffy about this remake and came to the film on my high-horse (I left that tied to the rail outside the cinema by the way). But I was surprised to have my expectations reset.
Possibly on the basis that Trump has been given the Mexican’s a good bashing lately, the villain of the piece in this film is updated from Mexican bandit Calvera to Sacremento based land-snatcher and all round bad-egg Bartholomew Bogue (an expressionless Peter Sarsgaard). After ripping through some of the inhabitants of Rose Creek in a brutal pre-title sequence, widowed sharp-shooter Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, “The Equalizer”) heads into the West on a recruiting mission for hired guns. She first recruits the bounty hunter Chisholm (sing “Chisum, John Chisum…”… no, sorry different Western) played by Denzel Washington. Washington matches Yul Brynner’s famous black outfit, and unlike Brynner is obviously able to finish off the ensemble naturally!
They recruit another six (who’d have thought it?) including wise-guy gambler Faraday (Chris “Guardians of the Galaxy” Pratt); famed confederate sniper Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke); his nifty knife throwing Asian sidekick (but good for the Far East box office) Billy Rocks (Bjung-hun Lee, from Terminator: Genisys); and religious bear-of-a-man Indian-hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, “Jurassic World”). After trying to whip the incompetent townsfolk into shape, and setting some Home-Alone style surprises, the stage is set for a showdown as Bogue whips up an army to re-take “his” town.
I like classic Westerns, with John Ford’s Rio Bravo being a particular favourite. In my view the problem with many modern Westerns is that they try too hard to shock (Tarentino’s recent “Hateful 8” was a case in point: a promising start ruined by gratuitous over-the-top violence). “The Magnificent Seven” doesn’t make that mistake, and while the squib-master and blood-bag boy are heavily employed throughout, nothing is too excessive: in fact, my view – and I don’t often tend in this direction – is that the censors rather over-egged the UK 12A rating on this one and could have gone with a 12. Director Antoine Fuqua has produced a film that is highly respectful of its heritage: perhaps to the point where many scenes might be deemed to be clichéd. But I personally warmed to that.
Denzel Washington was born to be in a Western like this and the emerging Chris Pratt does his star potential no harm by turning in a stellar performance adding both levity – with some whip-sharp lines – and screen presence in the role made famous by Steve McQueen. (Although no one comes close to the screen presence of McQueen…. Look up “real man” in the dictionary and his picture is there!) Also effective is Ethan Hawke in the nearest thing to the Robert Vaughan character in this film.
Where the adapted script by Richard Wenk and Nik Pizzolatto falters somewhat is in the motivations of the characters, which come across as superficial and unconvincing. (Perhaps “selling” was a whole lot easier in the Old West?) It is even unclear at the end of the film whether the survivors (and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the seven don’t all make it!) actually take their payment, or even a “share of the gold” that the town is sitting on. It makes for an unsatisfactory closure. The degree of racial harmony present in the film is also difficult to buy into, and the script could have made something more of this.
The film soundtrack marks the swan-song of the late James Horner, so tragically killed in a plane crash last year at the age of just 61. As the natural successor to the great John Williams and the late Jerry Goldsmith, Horner’s loss was a terrible one. The film is dedicated to him. Although the soundtrack was completed by Simon Franglen, there are flourishes of classic Horner, most notably in the first Rose Creek showdown scene. There is also a treat to the ears over the closing credits which is very welcome.
Although the film draws natural comparison with its 5* classic predecessor, this is a good film in its own right – a genuinely pleasant surprise. Perhaps its done well enough that we might get to now see a remake of “The Return of the Seven”. I hope so… “the Western is dead… long live the Western”!
Fad Rating: FFFF.