When news broke that Antoine Fuqua, director of exhilarating thrillers like Training Day (2001) and The Equalizer (2014), was teaming up with common collaborator Denzel Washington to create another remake of The Magnificent Seven, many anticipated at the very least a refreshing change from the standard-fare ensemble hero movies that modern film goers are accustomed to. Unfortunately, while the film is entertaining, it fails to fulfill audience’s hopes given the cast and source material.
The plot is one as old as cinema itself. In some faraway place in the west, a bad guy named Bogue (played by Peter Sarsgaard) tries to take advantage of some decent townsfolk who then turn to a legion of ragtag fighters to defend their city. Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) plays the leader of this vigilante group, and is joined by a gambler (Chris Pratt), a Confederate (Ethan Hawke), a blades expert (Byung-hun Lee), and a psycho (Vincent D’Onofrio, Hollywood’s resident crazy man). As the film progresses, it quickly becomes clear that some of these heroes have secret histories of their own which may interfere with their mission.
With legendary directors like Akira Kurosawa and John Sturges already connected to the film’s source material, the finished product had high standards to live up to. On paper, the cast looks up to snuff, and for the most part they deliver good if not memorable performances. Chris Pratt as gambler Josh Farraday steals the screen in almost every scene he is in while Ethan Hawke as former Confederate sharp-shooter Goodnight Robicheaux turns in his best performance in years.
Yet, with all the promise of this A-list cast, the film’s subpar writing and over-indulgence in its self-awareness prevent the movie from being anything more than a cheap summer studio cash-in. The film lacks heart; all the talk of “honor” and “righteousness” throughout the movie feels empty and thrown in because the source material says that it has to be thrown in. There are gratuitous one-liners like one about a Native American who joins the crew because the elders say that he has to “walk a different path” and clichéd deaths where the fallen are sure to let loose one final quip before falling down in a blaze of glory. In a lesser movie whose only goal is to entertain, these problems would be ignored, but they cannot and should not be in this film. An actor of Denzel Washington’s caliber should not be relegated to the role of a bland, taciturn cowboy like he is in this film. Likewise, the one-liners given to Chris Pratt’s character are funny at first, but get old quickly as it becomes more apparent that the film is counting on the one-liners to make up for a lack of actual substance.
All in all the film feels too routine. It seems more like a summer superhero movie rather than homage to classic westerns. Instead of the complex character development, hearty action scenes, and witty dialogue that the film promised, viewers are forced to settle for clichéd dialogue delivered by Hollywood’s best in a story that feels all too familiar. The film’s problem does not just lie in its simplistic plot. The fact of the matter is that there is not a single compelling scene in the movie that forces viewers to truly care about what is happening.
There are some good aspects of the film; the cinematography does portray a convincing western landscape, the score is decent if underwhelming for what one would expect in a western, and the actions scenes are well choreographed. Unfortunately, the film settles for mediocre storytelling instead of what it had the potential to be. For a recent film that makes better use of its cast and the Western genre, I would recommend Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) or John Mangold’s 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma.
Film Grade: 2.5/4