With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue, the desperate townspeople employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns. As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.
The western continues its little rebirth, bolstered by Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015) and led by the 2010 Coen brothers remake of True Grit. The original 1960 The Magnificent Seven bank holiday favourite was, of course, a remake itself, coming barely six years after Akira KuroaKurosawa’s somewhat peerless Seven Samurai (1954). Is there a need for a new Seven to avenge a small town? Not really, but it’s probably still only Tarantino who could get an original western made and that title is one of cinema’s most famous and therefore ripe for a remake.
Denzel Washington takes the role of Chris, previously played by Yul Brynner. Similarly clad in black, Denzel plays Denzel; the character could slot into any number of Washington’s previous films with no modification, but that’s no bad thing. It’s comforting to know what you’re going to get with your leading man and he doesn’t disappoint. Likewise Chris Pratt, here filling Steve McQueen’s shoes (or as well as anyone could) ,playing a cocky, one-liner quipping hero. So, Chris Pratt then. Don’t knock it, it’s working for him so far. The rest of the cast is modernity writ large, filled out with Mexican Vasquez (Garcia-Rulfo), Korean Billy Rocks (Lee) and native Indian Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). But aside from a bit of lip service here and there, the multi-ethnic lineup is barely mentioned.
Fuqua has raided the cliché cupboard and left it bare. Close up faces, piercing eyes, a bar piano that stops as Denzel enters, a cowardly man who runs in the middle of a shootout and buys it….they keep coming and coming. But that’s sort of the point. This is no homage nor pastiche – witness the immense body count for a 12a movie for one – but is instead a 21st Century western made the old way. Real men fall from real horses, the soundtrack (by the late, great James Horner and Simon Franglen) sounds just as it should and everything one expects from a western is all present and correct. Because of that, and just as Denzel playing Denzel is comforting, so is the film.
Ok, it’s not going to win any awards, won’t make it big at the box office and the original with Brynner, McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn and the one you can’t remember (Horst Buchholz as Chico, pub quiz fans) will still be the one on your tv the next rainy Bank Holiday Monday, but there is plenty to enjoy here. After a sagging start, and a (too) quick assembling of the seven, it really kicks into gear. The battle between our heroes and slimy, evil bad guy Bogue (a wonderfully sneering Peter Sarsgaard) is one of the best in many a year, and all the better for that complete lack of CGI or super-quick editing. And our seven, despite perhaps not being quite the memorable characters of the original, each have their chance in the sun. This is perhaps Ethan Hawke’s best role in years and an almost unrecognisable Vincent D’Onofrio as squeaky-voiced Jack Horne looks like he’s having far more fun than is decent.
Is this all magnificent? Well, no; The Perfectly Acceptable Seven would be a far more apt title. It’s too long, Chris Pratt holding up seven fingers in a very awkward nod to Steve McQueen counting off the group one by one should never have made the final cut and having Hakey Bennett’s Emma Cullen be one of the boys, but only when it’s convenient, rings completely false. But Denzel fast shooting his way through a bar or a town thrills, and the sparse bits of humour manage to lift what would have been very leaden moments just right. Just don’t expect the three sequels, tv series and sci-fi ripoff the original spawned.