MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Western/ Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Vincent D’Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Peter Sarsgaard, Haley Bennett, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, Jonathan Joss, Cam Gigandet, Dane Rhodes, Sean Bridgers, Billy Slaughter, Mark Ashworth, Matthew Posey, Clint James, Carrie Lazar, Jody Mullins, David Kallaway, Chad Randall/ Runtime: 133 minutes
Now THIS land of movie magic and all her denizens is how you manage to do a remake in the best way possible. I mean to heck with the completely unnecessary in every sense of the word reimagining of the iconic Charlton Heston favorite Ben-Hur from the long gone year of 2016. Indeed film helmer Antoine Fuqua’s, also from 2016 incidentally, updating of the Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, and Steve McQueen classic Western The Magnificent Seven is a film that manages to nail hook, line, and sink, the formula for how to do this in that it manages to take the original film from 1960 (incidentally a slice of cinematic pie that too was itself a remake of a movie known as Seven Samurai) and not exactly retool it in any way, but put enough of a new coat of paint on it for modern movie lovers whilst remaining honest to both the 1960 take on the story and to just the Western genre of movie magic itself. Indeed this is a movie that manages to locate that mythical and highly sought-after by many a film middle ground between past and present, comical and serious, and faithful and novel. Yet if I could pinpoint one ingredient in this slice of cinematic pie that, more than the authentic vibe in which it was made, the truly dynamic performances, the rousing musical accompaniment, or the truly gorgeous work done by the cinematography department, makes this film a true root-tootin’ time to be had watching a movie it would have to be the love with which it was made, and a respect for both the material and just Westerns overall that really goes a long way in aiding this movie really negate any nitpicks to be found in its updating to the year 2016. Suffice it to say that film helmer Antoine Fuqua manages to give himself quite a bit of leeway to operate within by having regard for what has come before whilst making this slice of cinematic pie his kind of film even as he still makes it, in regards to narrative texture, something that on a fundamental level has the look and vibe of an iconic Western in every aspect beyond the time period in which it was conjured up and some of the slicker techniques behind the camera even as they prove to make the film better and not bring it down in any sense whatsoever.
The plot is as follows: The Magnificent Seven introduces us to its riveting Wild West yarn by taking us to a dirty, desolated town known as Rose Creek and her decent at heart denizens who find themselves in a bit of a pickle. That is because the good and decent townsfolk for a while now have found themselves for all intents and purposes held up by a bullying and slimy businessman by the name of Bartholomew Bogue. However, following a raid by Bogue and the men under his employ or in his pocket, a young woman by the name of Emma Cullen who tragically had to watch as Bogue gunned her husband down in cold blood, has had enough of his wicked ways and decides to find help from elsewhere in order to both protect the town and those who live there, but also to drive Bogue and his army away for good. To that end, we soon see as Emma crosses paths with just a man in the form of a guy by the name of Sam Chisholm. Chisholm, we quickly learn, is a guy who spends in time executing warrants as a warrant officer and as such has other priorities….that is until he hears of Bogue’s involvement. Soon enough, we watch as Chisholm puts together a distinct group of guys who are all willing to aid the good people of Rose Creek in this assignment. These men are, in no particular order, a notorious gambler/gunslinger by the name of Josh Faraday, a mountain man by the name of Jack Horne, a friend/infamous sharpshooter/ Civil War hero named Goodnight Robicheaux, a wanted outlaw going by Vasquez, a Comanche who calls himself Red Harvest and Goodnight’s sidekick/an expert knife wielder by the name of Billy Rocks. Together this unlikely band of brothers must do everything in their collective power to protect the good townsfolk even as they with equal parts courage and strength take the fight to Bogue and his men whatever the cost…
Now this slice of cinematic pie is so loyal to the framework, style, and even tropes of this truly iconic genre that it almost veers straight into the dreaded realm of parody at certain moments. Thankfully, the movie still manages to show that it both a worthy and respectful update of those ingredients as well. Indeed this is not just a reflective glance back at this time-honored genre; it also thrives there, takes in the same air, wears the same boots, and even uses the same firearms. Indeed film helmer Fuqua’s love for this kind of film really is quite glaringly obvious at every moment when there are moments where he takes a little bit of a break from some of the more grounded narrative arcs and characters to take in some of his favorite genre tools. In addition, the movie also is the proud recipient of production values that are truly, as the title itself says, magnificent in how they treasure realism, but also in the same beat bring the film to life and get it set up for the tempo that the terrific cast brings to it. Speaking of the cast I feel it should be said that this movie’s diverse group of seven manage to do truly wonderful work. Indeed this film is not one about what they look like or where they hang their hat except for the snippets we get here and there; rather this film is about both what they are able to accomplish as a unit and the individual things about each of them that enable them to work majestically together. Indeed the bonds between the men are truly delightful and their talents with either guns (or in one’s case knives) never seem like they just picked it up yesterday and they check all the other boxes like these are actual men from that time period rather than some truly wonderful talent from the land of movie magic today. Suffice it to say then that film helmer Antoine Fuqua manages to get the most possible from each and every actor in this group of riveting performers, and they all in their own way manage to prove to be one of the finest gatherings of talent that I have seen in a slice of cinematic pie in a Western film in at least the past 20 years hands down. Indeed Vincent D’Onofrio and Byung-hun Lee in their respective roles manage to do phenomenal work with characters that could have easily been one-note or total clichés in the worst way possible, Ethan Hawke continues to show why he is one of the more underappreciated thespians of his generation, and (no surprise) Denzel Washington is top-flight and actually the perfect thespian to bring to life this new interpretation on the 7’s stoic yet humane leader. Out of everyone involved in the film though, it is ultimately Chris Pratt as Faraday who comes to best represent what this movie is all about as he manages to give us a truly terrific performance that’s equal parts fun and grounded, but also 110% Western in all the best ways and then some.
As for some of the other technical ingredients that this slice of cinematic pie is operating with, I think it should be that the work done herein by the movie’s cinematography department is jaw droppingly gorgeous. I mean not only are the typical Western expanses showcased to their utmost beauty, but they are also utilized to their fullest as well with every field of grass, range, building, and even the clouds above playing a part in enhancing the overall film or just working on the overall narrative. Indeed it really is a terrific add-on to what this particular genre has managed to always do wonderfully. We also see that the movie’s truly fantastic musical accompaniment, began by iconic composer James Horner and finished by Simon Franglen (due to Horner’s untimely and tragic passing) also does a top-flight job of constructing this movie on the same level as the actors involved in that it too manages to be iconic, fun, and also grounded all in one. Ultimately, I guess you could say that this movie is just about what you in the audience could really ask for a “present-day” entry in the Western genre of movie magic to be. By that I mean it respects what came before, but it also updates what it needs to in order to attract the modern movie goer whilst also being faithful to the source material, terrifically performed by a top-flight cast, and helmed with equal degrees passion and heart. Job well done movie, job well done.
All in all it is relatively safe to make the claim that the 2016 take on The Magnificent Seven manages to become yet another in a slowly, but surely expanding amount of purely magical and delightful retoolings of various properties in the iconic genre of movie magic known as the Western. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie manages to join such noteworthy dignitaries as the 2007 3:10 to Yuma and the 2010 True Grit as the new ambassadors for not just that iconic genre known as the Western, but also the much more expansive list of remakes as well. Suffice it to say that this is a darn tootin’ good slice of cinematic pie in nearly every single aspect that both you can think of and that which really truly matters at the end of the day. Above all though this movie is a fantastic example for why the Western is seen by many as the genre that America built and how it can still be just as timely as ever even if the peak of its time in the lives of movie lovers around the world has come and gone for quite a while. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Magnificent Seven “2016” a solid 3.5 out of 5.