Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 30, 2016

More like the mediocre seven

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

Whenever I hear about another remake coming to theaters, I begin shuffling through the library of images that exists in my brain of iconic moments in the original film.

My memories of the 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven” are stored between clips of Tatum Channing’s shirtless torso in “Magic Mike” and Jennifer Lopez dancing with Ralph Fiennes in “Maid in Manhattan.” 

So when word that a remake of director John Sturges’ classic western was in the works, my mind instantly jumped to a picture of a black cowboy hat perched atop actor Yule Brynner’s epic bald head.

That’s not what came to mind when Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) took on the task of directing the remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” which itself was a remake of a 1954 Japanese film called “Seven Samurai.” As he imagined the film he would make, he must have seen beautiful vistas of bone dry mountains, seven men riding horses in a cloud of desert dust, and tense showdowns and explosive shootouts in a hardscrabble western town.

And a black cowboy hat perched atop actor Denzel Washington’s epic thoughtful gaze.

The film now in theaters plays like a checklist of the ingredients that go into making a classic western. But it’s missing the heart that would have made it great.

“The Magnificent Seven” opens in the mining town of Rose Creek, where a corrupt industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue is trying to strong-arm the residents into giving up their land for pennies on the dollar. His entrance into the film through the doors of a church where the townsfolk are discussing the situation is one of the best shots in the movie. The framing and the way the camera moves in to a close-up of a face void of humanity told me Bogue was the heavy, and I instantly wanted him to die a terrible death.

I immediately stored that shot in my mental library. The scene in which Fuqua introduces Chisolm, played by Washington, soon followed. I love the way Fuqua shows only Chisolm’s torso as he steps up to a pair of swinging saloon doors, pauses, and waits for everyone inside to adjust and get their hands on their pistols. After he steps inside, you see the reason for the tense shift in the atmosphere: even in the American West, no one wanted to serve a black man in a white man’s bar.

Fuqua nails these and the other introductions. After Chisolm deals with a bounty in the bar and proves his sharpshooting skills to everyone therein, a young widow pleads with him to take on the man who killed her husband. Chisolm, who has his own reasons for wanting to take on Bogue, agrees, and begins to assemble a team that will be up to the task.

Some of the introductions are more involved than others; Fuqua spends more time introducing Goodnight Robicheaux, a sharpshooter, than he does Red Harvest, a Comanche warrior, for example. But as each of the seven joins the cause, there’s a sense of who he is and how he came to be there. Up until this plateful of scraps and leftovers is complete, “The Magnificent Seven” has a heartbeat. Then, oddly, the movie flatlines the moment the shooting begins.

There’s nothing dull about the showdown at the end of “The Magnificent Seven.” Technically, it’s well done, even if the bad guys are too eager to dart into the open and the good guys are too quick and accurate with their shots. 

But somewhere amidst the hailstorm of bullets and never-ending supply of targets for Chisolm and company to fell, the film loses something vital. The battle goes on too long without moving forward, and while some of the Magnificent Seven die good deaths, Fuqua didn’t deliver the kind of imagery or the emotional punch needed to make these moments iconographic.

That’s not to say you won’t enjoy “The Magnificent Seven.” It has its crowd-pleasing qualities. But it doesn’t have the characteristics of a classic. 

While that’s not a sin, redos should at least aspire to reach the heights of the original film. Otherwise, why make them at all?