When done right, modern attempts at the Western can rise above ordinary standards. A couple recent examples: 2010’s “True Grit” and last year’s “The Revenant”.
Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake / re-imagining / re-do / re-shoot-em-up of 1960’s “The Magnificent Seven” has the feel and flavor of a “classic” Western, maybe more so than any other film in the genre in recent memory. I give Fuqua a lot of credit for the spot-on set-design, appropriate score, slick cinematography and staging an extended, half-hour-long climactic shoot-out.
But being SO true to the formula is also what prevents “The Magnificent Seven” from living-up to its title. There are no surprises in the story and very little suspense. The only element worth placing a bet on is how many of the Seven “good guys” (though plenty more join the core group) will survive the epic showdown.
Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisolm – who’s Part lawman/part bounty hunter – enters “The Magnificent Seven” by walking into a saloon (complete with plenty of dirty-faced, poker-playing cowboys and their female “companions”) dressed in all-black. The residents think he’s trouble, but Sam assures them he’s there to help.
Soon, Josh (played by Chris Pratt) joins Sam on a quest to save a small town from being taken over by maniacal, gold-obsessed land-grabber Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Five others join the group, including Legendary sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux. Ethan Hawke gives the best performance of the ensemble as the only interesting character in the movie.
“The Magnificent Seven” is 2 hours and 10 minutes – and – like a long ride on a hard saddle – you feel it. As with most Westerns, it’s dominated by set-up. Every character talks – a lot – especially Pratt’s Josh. His sarcasm shtick is getting old and really doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. And even though Fuqua has now made three movies with Washington, he doesn’t provide his star with one “magnificent” acting scene.
I wish “The Magnificent Seven” wasn’t so by-the-book. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the original, chances are you know exactly how this saga is going to play out before the first frame. I’m never impressed by films that are satisfied with only meeting an audience’s bare-minimum expectations.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Magnificent Seven” gets what it deserves – a C.
Running Time: 133 min.