The Magnificent Seven (2016)
I tend to have a general disregard for remakes. Movies that strive to stand on the shoulders of greatness just to make a quick profit at the box office. There is one concession that I typically make recognizing a justification for the certain type of remade movie. Some stories are so integral to the human condition that they demand retelling through the experience and sensibilities of each generation. For example, no one would accuse the producers of ‘West Side Story’ of ripping off Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.' It was an understandable retelling of the story that presents themes so universal in nature that they transcend time and space. Just this week a pair remakes of iconic released on Blu-ray/DVD, ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘the Magnificent Seven.' My initial reaction is not an uncommon one, "why bother." After all, both of those movies are examples of such incredible filmmaking that I was hard-pressed to imagine how any movie could revisit the themes even to a modern perspective. First I decided to review was the ‘Magnificent Seven.' I suppose I was subliminally influenced by the recent HBO series, ‘Westworld,' based on the Michael Creighton movie. I admit, that although was unable to accomplish the nigh on impossible task of ascending even close to the original, I did find it to be a reasonable retelling of the story. The idea of a small band of men facing impossible odds, the noble purpose of helping the downtrodden, is a story retold throughout history. Cinematic perspective the roots of this franchise are accepted to have begun with the Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese masterpiece ‘Seven Samurai’. The first American western bearing the name, ‘The Magnificent Seven,' was in 1960 film by John Sturges. As with most films in this category the most challenging aspect facing the filmmaker is the fact that he is in direct competition with the movie containing scenes, characters, dialogue and a musical score that entered indelibly into the popular culture.
To maintain the integrity of the themes to be explored in recognition of the universal insight into human nature, requiring some scenes, in this case, is establishing the helpless situation endured by the villagers in the unimaginably savage evil of their warlord oppressor and his minions. The film opens in 1879 in the small mining town of Rose Creek. The town folk peacefully assembled in the church trying to determine what to do with the situation that is about to doom the town. Right on cue, the source of their problems enters corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), is accompanied by contingent men hired from the Blackstone Detective Agency, a less reputable version of the real-life Pinkerton agency. Bogue owns the mining operation extracting gold from the territory. To expedite this goal needs to obtain ownership of all the land. He offers the unreasonably low price of $20 per parcel or else. To demonstrate the undesirability of the alternative is men proceed to kill random people, shooting men in the back and murdering defenseless women. The only one in town with sufficient testicular fortitude was the widow of one of the murdered men; Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and a friend of my late husband, Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) gathered together everything of value and set off to find somebody who will help liberate their town.
Following the general outline of the story, the first order of business is to obtain the services of a leader, a man who would be able to secure the services of a cadre of men with extraordinary abilities and shooting and other forms of killing. That person is found belly rapidly by Emma and the person of Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), an African-American warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas, a man who is deadly but driven by a firm sense of justice. One very notable aspect of this film is that it does attempt to be politically correct about the ethnic diversity of the group. It is a matter of historical the fact that many African-American cowboys after the Civil War remained in the West. Also included in this cast has they wanted desperado for Mexico and an assassin from China, lethal in the use of knives. Mr. Washington has the most difficult moment to portray not because of any demands specifically placed on the character because of the legacy of the same character in the original. The leader of the group played by Yul Brynner, who created the role of Chris Adams, a Cajun gunslinger with a bald head and always dressed completely in black. This character became so strongly embedded in the zeitgeist largely because he appeared as the antagonist in the film, ‘Westworld.' It remains a strong image that most recently applied in the HBO series as an Easter egg in one episode. Fortunately, Mr. Washington is enacted with the skill and experience to be able to make this role is on while maintaining its integrity within the context of the story.
The second in command played by Steve McQueen in the original is undertaken by Chris Pratt who has cemented his recognition as an action star due in large part to his contribution to Marvel Cinematic Universe. He brings his trademark playful sense of humor even the most intensely violent scenes. It takes almost an hour of screen time to fully assembled with and set up the initial skirmish to the credit of the director, Antoine Fuqua, the extended position this assignment introduce the remaining members of the seven is nicely paced. There is a well-balanced combination of well-established actors with those that might be less known by the American public. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is a former Confederate sharpshooter with PTSD, always accompanied by his partner and best friend Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and Asian immigrant was introduction was reminiscent of the knife versus gun scene that originally introduced James Coburn. Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a not so gentle giant of a man was a trapper with people religious beliefs. He made even pray for you after he kills you. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican fugitive participating to escape being brought in for his bounty. Finally completing the seven and adding another ethnically diverse character is Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) a Native American exile from the Comanche nation.
I had the distinct feeling that the reason why the location of the village changed from Mexico to arrest and territories of the United States is a concession made as a result of the recent upswing in negativity towards the people of the country directly past our southern border. It did manage to work particularly considering that most members of the audience the greed of very wealthy man corrupting the law to further his wealth, power, and influence. It also demonstrates that private armies are not something that recently used in our conflicts in the Middle East with little military consulting firms. The resulting film is quite acceptable as a popcorn flick to enjoy on a Saturday evening. It explored the themes adequately but unfortunately took on an impossible task of living up to the original. Besides the many iconic moments of the 1960 version, this variation does lack some of the heart exhibited by the previous movie. For example, the poignant scenes between Charles Bronson and the young Mexican boys have no counterpart in this film. There is also the human nature thread of the youngest of the seven falling in love with the young Mexican woman eventually giving up his gun to stay with her as a farmer. And not telling the story there was a distinct moral that while violence may be necessary to dispel the wicked the farmers and their land will persist. Naturally, one of the most evident and necessary deficiencies is the musical score. The main theme and incidental music created by one of the cinema’s top composers, Elmer Bernstein, also has into the collective consciousness of the generation. The original music by Simon Franglen and James Horner suitably helped reinforce the mood like most of the aspects of this film were up against a piece of the fabric of our culture.