There’s not much new you can do with a Western. Even the basic premise behind “The Magnificent Seven” of a town led by heroes defending itself from a ruthless villain has been used so much it has been parodied on multiple occasions (think “Blazing Saddles” and “The Three Amigos”).
Of course, the original “The Magnificent Seven” itself was cribbed from a Samurai classic by Akira Kurosawa. And round and round we go.
So, we’ve firmly established a remake of “The Magnificent Seven” isn’t going to break any new ground from a story-telling standpoint. So, if it is going to work, you had better have some memorable characters and a whole lot of style.
Fortunately, the new “The Magnificent Seven” has both and benefits tremendously from being built on the bedrock that is Denzel Washington.
Washington is one of the last remaining movie stars in the purest form of the term and how he’s never done a Western before now is perplexing, especially with the ease and confidence with which he strolls across the screen wearing nothing but black from the tips of his boots to the top of his hat.
He plays Sam Chisolm, a peace officer roaming the West who is approached by a bold widow named Emma Cullen (played confidently by up-and-comer Haley Bennett). She presents Chisolm with a satchel full of money and the proposition to come and defend her town from dastardly robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who is hellbent on driving the townsfolk from their land so he can mine it.
Chisolm takes the job partly because of nobility and partly because of an unsettled score and goes about assembling a gang of formidable men to take on the impossible task of defending the town from Bogue’s hired army.
The assemblage includes wily gambler and gunfighter Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), former Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his knife-wielding associate Billy Rocks (Korean megastar Byung-hun Lee), soft-spoken mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and exiled Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
This is a fun cast and director Antoine Fuqua (we’ve got a little “Training Day” reunion going on here with Fuqua, Washington, and Hawke) packs the screen with action and flair.
The screenplay is surprisingly lively as well with a pass over from “True Detective” auteur Nic Pizzolatto, which allows each actor to play to his or her strength.
Denzel gets to be awesome, Pratt gets to be funny and charming, Hawke gets to be chatty, Sarsgaard gets to be sweaty and tense and D’Onofrio gets to be weird. You couldn’t draw it up any better. Even Bennett gets the rare female role in a Western of a woman who is strong, capable, and no man’s prize.
There is a lot to like about “The Magnificent Seven,” which never tires to be anything more than an entertaining, spirited movie. It was never going to score points for originality, so it keeps it simple and plays a winning, satisfying hand.
We should be so lucky that all remakes could be half this good.
“The Magnificent Seven” is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence and for historical smoking, some language, and suggestive material.