Why are there so many film remakes? Ghostbusters, Pete’s Dragon and The Magnificent Seven are three different films from different eras but all merited remakes this year. The common thread is that the people who watched the original titles growing up, now have their own money and are choosing what movie they pay to see. Remaking a popular title is a cunning little trick of those devils in the studio marketing departments. They trick you into making you believe the remake is a “safe” choice when actually they carry the same risk of dreadfulness as an original story. Sometimes the remakes work and sometimes they don’t and in true Western style, so far this year we have had the good (Pete’s Dragon) and the bad (Ghostbusters), was The Magnificent Seven going to be the ugly?
The Magnificent Seven or Mag7 as it seems to be getting called (who am I to argue?) stars Denzel Washington, picking up the Yul Bryner, man in black part who assembles a group of “guns for hire” to protect a village from the evil cowboy hoards of land grabber, baddie Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The film is directed by frequent Denzel Washington director, Antoine Fuqua (The Equaliser, Training Day).
Denzel Washington turns in a stellar performance. He is steely, sincere and smooth to watch as Warrant Officer, Sam Chisolm. He is the melted cheese of film. Everything he is in just makes it better. Joining him is Chris Pratt, who is playing a pseudo Steve McQueen type. Pratt does his best to break his Star Lord/Parks and Recreation’ Andy persona and does it to a degree, although his “drunk” acting is a tiny bit off the mark. Pratt, however, remains a fun actor to watch and I quite liked the more “serious” side to him in Mag7.
They are supported by Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manual Garcia-Ruflo, Martin Sensmeier and Ethan Hawke who make up the seven. Hawke turns in a solid performance as Confederate sharp shooter and brilliantly named Goodnight Robicheaux who has a whole bunch of crazy going on. The others are a stereotypical, top trumps deck of special abilities. Garcia-Ruflo is the Mexican outlaw, Sensmeier is the lone Native American and Lee is the knife man. They offer good performances but not a lot are asked of them. D’Onofrio, instead of staying safe, does what he does best. He takes a smaller role and manages to steal every scene that he appears in. Playing frontiersman, Jack Horne, D’Onofrio should be filed under the heading “this is how it’s done” when it comes to ensemble acting. He demands your attention while being respectful of the other actors.
Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue turns in a 1970’s Bond villain characterisation. He is supposed to be evil incarnate and although showing promise in the opening sequence, he fizzles out like a dowsed stick of dynamite the more the film goes on due to lack of screen time. Sarsgaard is not blameless as he should either pick untouchable evil or villain with a heart and stick to it. Instead, he flip flops between both leaving an uncertainty to his character while hamming up the screen at every opportunity.
Director favourite, Haley Bennett is where the bulk of the screen time goes as she is used to carry the plot along. Her performance is plucky and determined but like most of the others, plays it quite safe.
The action sequences are good and give off the feel of how the West was won along with a touch a Hollywood, artistic license thrown in for good measure. The quieter, tenser moments are unnerving and work slightly better than the loud, busy action sequences so much so that you could hear a pin drop in our cinema when there was a good guy/bad guy standoff (even the rather loud, older gentlemen to Mrs C’s right remained quiet, shocker). Denzel’s gritted nature is tailor made for the nervy moments and this is really what you are paying him the big bucks for. Anyone can pull a gun but not everyone has the intensity that Denzel layers the screen with like he does here.
James Horner and Simon Franglen’s music is reflective of the on screen action the way a good score should be. It’s jaunty and brash in the same way the original Elmer Bernstein music was but this time round there are more intricate segments to reflect the more serious scenes.
The criticism I have with Mag7 is the recruitment process of the seven. While the original took its time to build each character’s reason to join up, here, some of the characters just seem to want to hurl themselves into Denzel’s group of death knowing that it’s an impossible quest that has no reward. Now I know Denzel is charismatic but c’mon? Only a few of the seven have any reason explained and they are fairly thin explanations at best.
Mag7 is a fun remake of a remake (The Magnificent Seven) of a remake (Seven Samurai) that has above standard acting and when the action weans Mauro Fiore’s cinematography keeps you interested on what’s going on. When you pick it apart there are holes galore and it’s not exactly a thinker but this is a film that you should just sit back and lose yourself in for the 133 minute running time. It’s not quite Pete’s Dragon’s good but I’m pleased to say it’s certainly not Ghostbusters bad. If Mag 7 is as ugly as remakes get, then keep them coming.