Disclaimer: I’ve never seen the original ‘The Magnificent Seven’ featuring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, nor the film that it was a remake of; Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’. So I went into this remake-of-a-remake knowing only the 60s theme tune and little else. This worked out perfectly for I had no expectations or standards for this to hit; I only wanted an entertaining Western. And I got it. Pure and simple.
Director Antoine Fuqua brings in his main man Denzel Washington to lead the most PC brigade of outlaws and gunslingers this side of the 1880s in a film that doesn’t break the mould for the Western genre, but goes a long way in proving what a wonderfully entertaining genre it is, and how those who do it right prove they are, at the end of the day, nothing but talented and passionate film-makers.
It’s a tick-box of what every great Western film needs. A love letter to the genre itself whilst providing more than enough nods to the original...and original before that. We have a rousing score by the late James Horner and his later replacement Simon Franglen. We have nothing but eye pleasing panoramas of snowy mountains, dusty plains, grassland, shanty towns, saloons and rocky canyons thanks to Mauro Fiore. Audio and visual come together to create a world we’ve seen many times before, and to this extent we know just what to expect, but it’s how it’s delivered which is the real winner.
We’ve got a talented cast right from the start. Our ‘Seven’ are a mix of handsome (mostly) and daring rogues who are as quick with a six-shooter or a knife as they are with their sharp-tongue and killer instinct. It takes about 30mins for the seven to come together and they all have their moment to shine. We get to know what makes them tick, what their strengths are and a few stand out as the real “main” men like Washington, Pratt and Hawke. The others don’t just blend into the background thought, far from it.
They all are an important piece of the team for their own reasons and their chemistry slowly grows and it’s impossible not to invest in them during their action sequences and the exploration of their inner thoughts and feelings taking on such a mission. They all are likeable, funny and represent a character we’ve pretended to be in our childhood. Even the supporting cast like the beautiful Hayley Bennett and the sadly under-used Peter Sarsgaard are the characters we want; a brave but naive heroine and a slimy, heartless villain. And the talented cast and crew really pull it off in the finale. And what a finale it is.
While certain parts of it go on a little longer than you’d expect, it’s a blistering, barn-storming powerhouse of everything that a Western is about. Cowboys shooting on horseback. Shooting from the ground. Churches on fire. Bad guys falling off horses. Good guys in a stand off with bad guys. Good guys caught up in explosions from dynamite sticks. Bad guys falling from roofs. It’s got everything. Well, it’s not got a steam train, but that’s it.
It’s sheer popcorn entertainment and what stuck out to me was the fact I saw little to no CGI. It felt like old school film-making in an era full of expensive fantastical CGI romps. This is practical film-making at its best, and anyone who pulls this of in a Western gets my applause. We see specially created sets, intricate pyrotechnics, stunt-men taking a beating, and shoot-outs that fueled the imagination of children years before video games and lazy blockbusters took over.
Sure some of the characters may not have the outcome you want them to have, or some may not get more screentime that you wanted, but on the whole this was nothing but entertaining and enjoyable without being silly. It’s a grown up Western film for adults. It’s violent, explosive and well-acted. At just over 2hrs it cracks along at a fine pace and when that iconic theme plays out over the end credits, I guarantee you’ll find it hard not to admit you were nothing but entertained.
And in a summer that left me, on the whole, a bit disappointed, this is a welcome return to a genre that stays clear of the usual nonsense and gives us just what we envision when we think of a ‘Western’ film, and with no Clint Eastwood in sight.