Of course we all know the main reason a studio remakes a 56-year-old enduringly-popular western (itself a remake, of course) is to earn more money for itself. Consequently, I can’t be bothered discussing this film in any great detail, and feel that the cynicism lying behind the production should be met with an equally cynical shrug of the shoulders. But briefly: Peter Sarsgaard is fun (and underused) as the evil capitalist villain – surely director Antoine Fuqua could have included him in more than four scenes, given that the 2016 update of John Sturges’ classic western The Magnificent Seven is two hours long. Sarsgaard’s character is thinly-drawn, like all the others, including – rather oddly – Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisholm, very much a typical western ‘man in black’ (though of course it’s still unusual to see a black actor in a lead role within this genre). Chisholm’s back story is saved for the final scene, to add further drama to proceedings, but unfortunately it just leaves you thinking ‘that’s actually interesting…why didn’t you tell us that earlier?’ Anyway, he’s the leader of the Seven, and this film’s counterpart to Yul Brynner’s gunslinger; Denzel’s as charismatic as usual, here.
Joining him is Chris Pratt, who wisecracks away in the Steve McQueen role, but looks for all the world like a man appearing in a TV sketch show skit of a western, Saturday Night Live-ing his way through one cliche after another (though his performance does at least echo the playful tone of Sturges’s earlier film). Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke are the other big names in the cast, and they fare slightly better with the material, while the team is rounded off by the less-well-known actors Byung hun-Lee, Martin Sensmeier and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who play ‘East Asian’, Comanche and Mexican characters respectively. I’d love to celebrate the inclusivity here, but can’t really get past the feeling that it’s very obviously an exercise in racial box-ticking, and a marketing ploy to attract as wide an audience as possible; the film doesn’t really explore the experiences of any of its minority characters as they relate to the setting or period. Um…what else? It’s a boys club again, so only one woman (Haley Bennett) has a part of note, and in fact only one woman in addition to Bennett gets to read a line. You could argue that the way the late composer James Horner’s soundtrack references Elmer Bernstein’s original score is subtle, but I’m not feeling particularly charitable, and I’ll say instead that it’s too restrained for my liking (a fact made all too clear by the joyous burst of this brilliant, inspiring, romantic theme during the end credits). Finally, and somewhat disappointingly, the director makes a bit of a hash of the big gun battles. The last of these sees a seemingly endless number of non-descript, villainous henchman bite the bullet, and is a muddled, sloppy affair: how on earth is it possible to confuse the geography of a town with just one street? But…y’know what? I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained at times, and there are worse ways of passing a couple of hours, especially if you have a fondness for westerns generally, or those ‘putting-the-team-together’ movies of yore. It’s just that…beyond the issue of making money…what exactly is the point?
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Written by: Nick Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk. Based on Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent d’Onofrio, Byung hun-Lee, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard.
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore.
Editing: Josh Refoua.
Music: James Horner, Simon Franglen.
Running Time: 132 minutes.