This week’s imagination failure comes to you via the old west, with Antoine Fuqua’s heavy-handed and joyless remake of the John Sturges 1960 classic The Magnificent Seven, which had a handful of follow-ups and was itself of course a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Fuqua ultimately finds in his picture a tale of standard-issue revenge; he mislays the cool, amoral idealism of the gunslinger code, along with much of the jaunty humour – and there’s nothing to compare with Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful, original score. Moreover, Denzel Washington is off his game.
This has been billed as a Magnificent Seven for a modern political age in the US, although the original has current resonance. In 1960, the Mexican villagers could travel north to hire their mostly white American mercenaries, and come back down with them, unimpeded by any Trump wall. And it was a movie against big government: the federales were useless, and in Kurosawa the villagers objected to paying tax to an authority that couldn’t protect them.
In the 2016 movie, honest homesteading farmers are murdered and terrorised by a corporate villain who is trying to drive them from their land – mining robber baron Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Angry widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) hires Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a lightning-fast gun who turns out to carry documents proving his lawman’s authority – not unlike Christoph Waltz’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. He is to be joined by lovable rogue Josh (Chris Pratt), former confederate soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), bearded frontiersman Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), bandit Vasquez (Manuel García-Rulfo), knife-throwing Billy Lee (Lee Byung-hun) and Comanche loner Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
So there’s some admirable diversity in this new Seven, but this is not so much political correctness as superhero correctness: the Seven are presented as an exotic variety, an assemblage of Avengers-type cowboys. The film has some superficial style, and the action sequences are put together competently enough, but there’s little or no sense of jeopardy, of danger threatening people you might really care about. Washington, meanwhile, is under par, and the townsfolk seem to have taken their acting lessons from the cast of Blazing Saddles.
This article was written by Peter Bradshaw, for theguardian.com on Thursday 22nd September 2016 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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