Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 western classic – itself an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai – isn’t quite, well, magnificent, but as remakes go, it’s pretty decent, if narratively simplistic and a bit rushed in the character development department.
As the film opens, a robber baron known as Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, aiming to do nothing less than be the sleaziest villain of 2016) rides into a small town in the old west, announces that the land will soon be his, shoots the townsfolk who disagree with him and leaves their bodies lying in the street for all to observe.
The wife (Haley Bennett) of one of the dead men is less than enthused about this development, so she seeks out a righteous man to bring justice to the town. She stumbles upon Sam Chisolm (a steely Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter with a soft spot and possibly an axe to grind, who agrees to return with Bennett’s Emma to her town to put Bogue’s efforts to a halt.
He rounds up – you guessed it – six other men, including a former confederate sniper with shell shock (Ethan Hawke), his knife-throwing pal (Lee Byung-Hun), a wild man with hatchets and axes galore (Vincent D’Onofrio), Native American warrior (Martin Sensmeier), Mexican gunslinger (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a wisecracking card player (Chris Pratt).
In terms of characterization, it’s mostly limited to the character’s introductions, although Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux gets a little extra development late in the film when he can’t decide whether he’ll fight the good fight or flee. Washington, as always, brings the right amount of presence, although he’s relegated to being the strong and silent type, with an emphasis on the latter.
The picture doesn’t exactly stand up to the original, which was one of the better westerns of the early 1960s and it goes without saying that it’s no Seven Samurai, which ranks among the greatest films of all time. But as remakes go, it’s a mostly enjoyable shoot ’em up with some great action choreography, scenery captured by gorgeous cinematography, and a jokiness that, on one hand, is not likely representative of how anyone in the old west behaved – as in, ever – but, on the other, adds a little levity to the nonstop bloodshed.
So, while the use of the word “magnificent” could be viewed as hyperbole in the case of this picture – although the “Good Enough Seven” doesn’t quite cut it in the title department – it’s an enjoyable enough modern take on a classic story.