Antoine Fuqua is probably one of the most reliable journeyman filmmakers we have. While he’s probably not going to top Training Day anytime soon, he consistently brings a solid eye that manages to elevate otherwise forgettable action fare like Shooter and The Equalizer. His remake of Western classic The Magnificent Seven falls along those lines, but thanks to Fuqua’s skill as an action director and a charismatic cast that’s game for the material, it’s at the very least a fun antidote to this year’s relatively disappointing summer movie season.
When evil businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over the small mining town of Rose Creek, the newly-widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) leaves to hire some help to try and chase him away. Eventually, a team of seven is assembled: warrant officer Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), trickster Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt), ex-Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Comanche outcast Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). Together, they must prepare the citizens of Rose Creek to fight with them against Bogue’s army.
If the movie sounds like a faithful remake, that’s because it is. True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto and dad-movie king Richard Wenk (Expendables 2, The Equalizer, next month’s Jack Reacher sequel) gleefully stick to the “hire some folks to chase off the bandits” formula of the original Magnificent Seven (and its predecessor, Akira Kurosawa’s immortal Seven Samurai), with the only major twist being that the bandits have instead become the mercenaries of an evil land tycoon with the look of an Established Gentleman™ and the temperament of Donald Trump. And as a result, the film pretty much plays out just as expected: the team is gathered, the town is trained, guns are fired, the day is saved.
But there’s nothing wrong with a bit of predictability every now and again as long as it’s well-done, and thankfully, The Magnificent Seven works. The film is well-directed, cinematographer Mauro Fiore captures the gorgeous scenery really well, and the action is about what one would expect from a Fuqua joint: it’s shot clearly, the editing allows it to breathe properly, and it even gets fairly brutal (for a modern day PG-13, at least) every once in a while. The score – the last one legendary composer James Horner ever wrote, though it features some work by Simon Franglen – is great, it’s what a Western score should be and more.
However, where the movie succeeds the most is with the performances and the characters. Pizzolatto and Wenk have given every one of these characters distinct personalities and moments to shine, and Fuqua has cast actors who are good enough to elevate them further. Denzel is reliably great here, giving the kind of movie star performance that most actors would kill to give. Pratt is essentially playing Star-Lord again, but since that’s what the part calls for it’s not as jarring as it sounds, and he does well in the role. Hawke sells his character’s PTSD, and shows off hereto unforeseen comedic talents, even though he doesn’t even try to do a Cajun accent to match his character’s background. What also works is his chemistry with Byung-Hun Lee, who proves himself a true star with this role and has all of the best action beats. Garcia-Rulfo is a lot of fun as Vasquez, proving himself someone to look out for. D’Onofrio is an absolute riot, from his accent to his reciting of Bible verses while he does his action-y bits he’s just a blast to watch. But the movie’s true breakout is up-and-comer Martin Sensmeier, who brings a real physicality to his role and I won’t be surprised if he becomes an action star in his own right.
Whether or not one would like The Magnificent Seven is probably entirely based on how you feel about Fuqua, and it’s not going to change the minds of his detractors, but overall, it’s a fun little movie that’ll do its job tiding over moviegoers while waiting for the Oscar season to ramp up. One could do worse right now.