‘For once we have a remake that definitively trumps its predecessor’ – MacDara Conroy on the 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven
Antoine Fuqua might proclaim his version of The Magnificent Seven is based on the primary source for the story, Akira Kurosawa’s acclaimed action adventure Seven Samurai, but the movie itself begs to differ. The band of western misfits led here by Denzel Washington’s black-clad Sam Chisolm, who include a gambling drifter (Chris Pratt), a civil war vet (Ethan Hawke) and a knife expert (Byung-hun Lee) in their number, mirror the 1960 cast a little too closely for comfort.
Then there’s the visual nodding to and, let’s be honest, wholesale dialogue theft from that first remake; the ‘so far, so good’ gag survives intact. Denzel even holsters his gun a lot like Yul Brynner does in the original.
The comparisons are many, but that’s pretty much where they end. Shifting the action north of the border as a story of homesteaders versus a dastardly robber baron was a smart decision by Fuqua, not only moving away from the dodgy overtones of the 1960 film but contemporising the tale for these times of post-crash austerity.
The enemy this time round is not Eli Wallach’s band of mostly brownface outlaws, but an amoral industrialist named Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) with his own private army based on the infamous Pinkertons, who’ve taken over the sleepy mining town of Rose Creek. Desperate for help, a strong-willed widow (Haley Bennett in a standout performance) escapes to seek the employ of bounty hunter Chisolm and as many men as he can muster to free her home from the yoke of capitalist oppression. It’s not your ordinary western, that’s for sure.
That first act stands out for its scene-chewing melodrama, in particular Bogue’s gleefully evil Daniel Day Lewis-isms on the pulpit before setting light to the town church, not to mention Vincent d’Onofrio’s squeaky-voiced bear of a wilderness tracker.
It doesn’t bode well, but as the gang gets together, via a string of entertaining vignettes, they settle into a believable camaraderie, much more so than the original’s cavalcade of stoic stars. Diversity is the agenda here, too, with an African-American lead, plus a Mexican gunslinger (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier) to round out the titular posse.
There are a few missing pieces; with so many characters, each with a backstory worth exploring, there were bound to be casualties (the gun-shyness of Hawke’s Confederate marksman Robicheaux is left hanging too long, for one).
However, they’re ultimately forgivable – as is the requisite calm before the storm, one that’s maybe a little too calm as it drags the film to a crawl – when Fuqua comes out all guns blazing in a tremendous final act. Some of the best action scenes of the year you’ll see right here, amid an actual god’s honest wood-and-dirt set, without a trace of CGI (till the very last scene, but I’ll ignore that if you will).
For once we have a remake that definitively trumps its predecessor – and by a director making up for his underachieving adaptation of The Equalizer and all.
Also out this Friday is Dare To Be Wild, a would-be biopic of Irish garden designer Mary Reynolds, who won the Chelsea Flower Show in 2002 as an novice outsider with her ‘wild garden’ philosophy.
A neat idea on paper, but in the hands of lawyer-turned-filmmaker Vivienne de Courcy it’s realised as empty-headed rom-com nonsense, set to a syrupy score (by The Frames’ Colm Mac Con Iomaire) and filled out with pandering Oirish stereotypes, caricatures for characters, a lengthy detour to Ethiopia – it’s a mess, whose only redeeming feature is that lead Emma Greenwell does a passable accent.
It’s worth noting that Dare To Be Wild first sprouted at DIFF a year and a half ago; it’s been wilting with all the other weeds ever since, only fit for the green waste bin.
The Magnificent Seven and Dare To Be Wild open nationwide on Friday September 23rd
Also published on Medium.