Here’s a scene from the remake of “The Magnificent Seven” that you haven’t seen in every other Western:
The Good Guys ride into town knowing they’re going to have to get into a quick shooting match with the slobby, nasty Bad Guys. The Good Guys are led by Denzel Washington in his first Western, playing a dude named Sam Chisum. The corrupt sheriff tells him to give up his guns. It’s a town ordinance; only the slobby bad guys, it seems, are allowed to carry guns.
Denzel tells him he’d be happy to give up his guns but he’s not so sure the friends he brought with him will. That’s when we first see Chisum’s friends – on rooftops, behind the sheriff, on opposite ends of the dusty street.
Trouble – big trouble – is only seconds away. A gunfight is going to happen. Because these “Magnificent Seven” also include a guy with ninja skills and a native American, that also means knives will be thrown with pinpoint accuracy and arrows will be shot from bows at targets just as precise.
The tension is palpable.
With quiet, almost whispering, affection Washington then gently addresses his horse who has been behind him the whole time. Run along boy, he tells him lovingly. We get the point. There’s no point in placing a noble and beloved animal in the crossfire.
That’s good. REALLY good. And pretty fresh too.
There are other fresh touches to Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 Western classic which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese masterpiece “Seven Samurai.” But the decent-enough new one is half, at best, of the film that inspired it.
As cool as Denzel Washington is, for one thing, he’s no Yul Brynner, our first shaven-headed celebrity, a fierce-eyed Mongolian with a huge Broadway voice and, in Mag 7, the fellow with the coolest black outfit a Western hero ever had. Brynner was a glorious Broadway idea of a heroic Western avenger. If he couldn’t outdraw every bad guy in sight, he could always, without really trying, bury him with a soliloquy or a song.
And what a cast had been assembled around Brynner by John Sturges, one of the most underrated action directors in the history of movies, the man who made “Bad Day at Black Rock,” and “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” and “The Great Escape” along with Mag 7. Caught before they became stars in their own right were Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. Sturges had an astounding gift for that. Before THEY became huge stars – and Oscar winners, too – Sturges hired Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine as bad guys in “Bad Day at Black Rock.”
There are no future Oscar winners in this cast. Just as Denzel Washington, with his mutton-chop sideburns, just doesn’t have the repressed articulated menace of Brynner, none of these seven are trophy candidates – unless Ethan Hawke finds the role that’s worthy of ALL his talents in a movie with big Hollywood promotional dough behind it.
Hawke is one of the major pleasures here. He plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a former marksman with the Confederacy, now having a hard time getting rid of the slaughtering wartime horrors in his head. He divides up the comic relief with Chris Pratt, as Sam Chisum’s first conscript in his seemingly crazy plan to liberate a small town from the clutches of an evil, coldhearted, homicidal land-grabber played with languid decadence by Peter Sarsgaard. (Don’t tell me it’s not a tribute to Val Kilmer in “Tombstone.” I’d bet on it.)
Vincent D’Onofrio plays a bear-like mountan man with an odd high voice.
This bunch is enjoyable – especially Pratt and Hawke, Washington’s his old buddy from his Oscar-winning role in “Training Day,” also directed by Fuqua. But these guys don’t have the cold-eyed sarcastic cool of Sturges’ originals.
So, no of course, this isn’t a patch on the original classic but it’s a whole lot more enjoyable than all the sequels it spawned on movies and TV– “The Magnificent Seven Ride,” “Guns of the Magnificent Seven,” “Ponchos of the Magnificent Seven,” whatever.
I think it was a mistake to move the plot out of Mexico and across the border so they can save a Western town full of law-abiding farmers. Sill, there is a small kick in this multi-culti Mag 7. The implication is, with these guys, liberation is everybody’s business.
With all the portentous mythologizing of the first 20 minutes, the bigger wiseacres in the audience are likely to be reminded of “Blazing Saddles” against their will. But once the action gets going in the middle, all bets are off. “The Magnificent Seven” turns into a shootout full of bullets, dynamite, Gatling guns and trick riding. It’s what we all came to see.
And no the music of the late James Horner , in one of his final scores, is no match for Elmer Bernstein’s original, especially not when it feebly tries to duplicate its galloping rhythms. But you should know that the classic original theme does show up; and where it does makes a nice tribute to the cast surrounding Denzel Washington.
Washington’s history as an action movie star is that he has never put a foot wrong; the closest he came was in the painfully pointless remake of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
He still hasn’t.
“The Magnificent Seven”
3 stars (out of four)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Peter Sarsgard, Vincent D’Onofrio and Haley Bennett.
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua. 132 minutes.
Rated: PG-13 for language and bullet-riddling violence.