There are some moments early in director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of a remake “The Magnificent Seven” when you think he’s really onto something special. Gorgeous sweeping landscapes painting the picture of the post-Civil War American West, an imposing greedy industrialist Bartholomew Brogue, and a classic good old fashioned shootout in a bar to introduce the bounty hunter hired to save the town of Rose Creek. The style, framework, and A-list casting — along with a screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, who dazzled us two years ago in the first season of “True Detective” — seem like the perfect recipe for a rollicking Western. But things go a bit sideways.
It’s a remake of a remake, of course, because the original 1960 John Sturges Western, which starred Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn, wasn’t really the original at all. It was a dustbowl remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” that became remembered as one of the classics of the genre. Who doesn’t to this day remember the best known musical themes of movie history? If it’s not coming to mind, check it out here.
The premise is relatively similar—seven outlaw gunslingers come together to save the residents of a town called Rose Creek from a ruthless land baron and gold miner played by Peter Sarsgaard. Denzel Washington is reunited with Fuqua (“Training Day” and “The Equalizer”) as bounty hunter and lawman Sam Chisholm, who decides a recently widowed redhead (Haley Bennett) gives him an offer he can’t refuse: Save her town and avenge her husband’s death and she’ll give you everything she owns. Chisholm seeks out in search of his band of misfits—Chris Pratt as a card playing gambler named Josh Faraday, a sharpshooter who goes by the name of Goodnight Robicheaux — played by Ethan Hawke. And then there’s the old codger Jack Horne played by a nearly unrecognizable Vincent D’Onofrio. He’s gotta get to seven — so add on Billy Rocks, (Byun-hun-Lee) whose weapon of choice is sharp blades, a bow and arrow wielding Indian Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeiier), and a Mexican outlaw known as Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). It’s a multi-cultural rebel force for sure.
There’s a scene in “The Magnificent Seven” which ends up being rather symbolic of the film’s shortfalls. The character played by Ethan Hawke is trying to teach the men of Rose Creek how to shoot their rifles so they can fight back against the evil Bartholomew Brogue and they simply can’t hit their targets. Same story for the movie overall. I wanted to get to know these characters because Hawke and D’Onofrio in particular seemed rich with unique layers, but Fuqua ops for bullets and dynamite blasts over further interrogation.
I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention several St. Louis connections to his movie. Peter Sarsgaard is a Belleville native who was born at Scott Air Force Base and later returned to the region to attend Washington University. Matt Bomer from Webster Groves has a smaller role in this movie and gets a bit lost in the shadows of some of the bigger known names. Sarsgaard is always perfect as a creepy bad guy, but this role is a bit one dimensional. Again—woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Still engaging, plenty of star power moments, and a rousing climax. The end result lands somewhere between magnificent and uninspired.