Bear with me while I quickly run through the history of Director Antoine Fuqua’s latest, The Magnificent Seven. So, the film is the remake of the acclaimed eponymous film made in 1960 by John Sturges. This, in turn, was the remake of the more acclaimed Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Let’s just say I don’t envy whoever is tasked with reviewing the next iteration of the Magnificent Seven.
In Fuqua’s latest version, an African American protagonist, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) plays the Avengers’ equivalent of Captain America. He’s the calming influence, the glue that keeps the seven together. Having Denzel play the role is a welcome change, and in a sense, acts as an antidote to stories like Avatar that have a white protagonist acting as the guardian angel of the oppressed. Even in John Sturges’ ‘original’, seven white men unite to save a Mexican village. But Fuqua, unfortunately, doesn’t delve too much into the dynamics of this change.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
Storyline: Seven gun men come together to rescue a town from its captors
What he does do though is portray the beauty inherent in the languor of life in a Western movie… in its enviable, now-obsolete simplicity. Fuqua tips his hat to all the staples, leaving us in no doubt that he’s a huge admirer of this genre. There’s the shoot-out in a saloon, the charming drawl in the accent, the wild horses and a scene even dedicated to showing one of them being tamed, the one-on-one cowboy gun fighting, the shots of open fields… The story, like life back then, is quite uncomplicated. It’s about a woman, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), who hires the Seven to avenge her husband and rescue her town, Rose Creek, from industrialist Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, who has little to do except look evil in a couple of scenes). The evil Bart plunders, takes over land, and forces slaves into mining. He’s the posterboy of the avarice of modernisation. That’s why it’s fitting when, towards the end, he brings in the Gatling Gun — a forerunner of the machine gun — into play.
It isn’t just Bart we learn little about. Even the Seven — brought together through a series of encounters, accidental and otherwise — aren’t really familiarised. There isn’t a lot of quality time spent on establishing their camaraderie. Considering how both Chisolm and Haley are keen on avenging their loved ones, it may not be too blasphemous to invoke the example of The Avengers, and point out how much time is wisely spent on establishing the quirks and traits of characters like Captain America and Iron Man. Here, the only real attempt at humanising them comes towards the end, when they all dine and discuss women. It’s almost an afterthought. With the exception of Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), who has an eye that is both roving and deadly, you don’t really feel much for any of them.
Did someone call for some swag?
Perhaps at least if they were shown to engage a bit with the locals, like in the original? The little interaction some of the members of the Seven have with Rose Creek citizens is one of condescension, as they try to train them in vain to take up arms against Bart and co. At the end, the narrator extols the selflessness of the Seven, but it never really comes through in the film, particularly because there are some selfish reasons at play for more than one member. That’s why you don’t agonise when the team suffers the inevitable losses. Even Emma, who is shown to be good with the gun, comes good at the very end — but only in the form of a deus ex machina.
It isn’t that The Magnificent Seven is a bad film. It’s made quite competently, and with much deference to the original — or should I say, originals. But the Seven here aren’t just magnificent enough. Fuqua’s film is to the original what a Colt revolver is to the Gatling gun.
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