Cinema Gulp’s review published on Letterboxd:
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Antoine Fuqua's latest film is a retelling of the classic 1960 film of the same name, which in and of itself is a retelling of the classic 1954 Akira Kurosawa film "The Seven Samurai". There have been multiple iterations of the classic story through the years. Jimmy T. Murakami and Roger Corman's "Battle beyond the stars" always seems to pop in my head. Here, Fuqua really uses his renaissance man approach of directing to make a fun and entertaining remake without stepping on his predecessor's toes or bowing down to too much modern day trends.
The cast is borderline perfect and though possibly a few minutes too long, the pacing and tone are spot on as well. Keep in mind, this is a western that approaches the material with a real sense of the classic that its retelling and never seems to try and outshine it. In being a western, certain liberties are always taken into account. The story here is pretty much every western we've seen in recent memory. Merciless Industrialist takes over and robs a town of its rightful property and resources and only a band of outlaws, killers, and bounty hunters can stop them.
Its in the performances, the small moments, and the over arcing build up of the film, does it really shine. This film takes its time to establish the characters, the threat, and the situation in hand. This strengthens the film immensely. Instead of an all out wall-to-wall action film it presents the viewer with a more than frightening villain and settles slowly into the plot while peppering in introductions of the 7 main characters within the first 40 minutes or so.
Denzel Washington is well cast here as Chisolm, the warranted peace officer who assembles the group. He's tough, yet compassionate, with a major chip on his shoulder. The film very rarely, if at all dwells on the fact that he's a black man. This is not a Tarantino film. He first meets up with Faraday played well by Chris Pratt. Pratt has really become a major star in the last couple of years so it was smart to advertise the film with him front and center along side Washington. However, this really isn't the case with the film. Though he displays his typical Pratt charm and sense of humor throughout, he's much more understated here. He's ambiguous and we are never quite sure if he's a hero type or someone simply in it for the money. There are moments that Fuqua could have easily had Pratt take over and go full on Star Lord, but he doesn't. He holds back on Pratt.
Ethan Hawke, for my money gave the best performance of the film, with perhaps the meatiest characters as well. He plays Goodnight, a former confederate sharpshooter who's more than haunted by the experience and his part in the death of so many lives. On the surface, he's perhaps the funniest character with wit, style, and aggression. Though he's so full of angst and guilt that we can't help but see through it all. Through some of the film, he almost plays like Val Kilmer's Doc Holiday of the group.
Vincent D'Onofrio does not disappoint with his limited screen time. He makes the absolute most with what he's given. One can't help but think that after reading his lines in the script, D'Onofrio requested that he make the character much for eccentric and that's exactly what he is. From the second his comes on screen, I couldn't help but laugh. He's a big, beastly, bear of a man who has this little squeaky voice. Its priceless. Byung-hun Lee is slightly underused here as Billy, the knife fighting Chinaman. He's awesome in battle and we can tell there's a great backstory there, but its just not fleshed out.
The rest of the cast fills out the remaining 7 nicely, with Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as the outlaw Mexican Vasquez and Martin Sensmeier as the bow slinging indian Red Harvest. Peter Sarsgaard is really underused as the villainous Bartholomew Bogue. He's such a great actor and really uses his face movements and eyes to tell a story. With the screen time he has, we get to see that, but its just too short. Finally, Haley Bennett as Emma, the widow who hires Chisolm plays it with confidence and a toughness that manifests throughout the film.
The Magnificent 7 is a good fun time at the theater. Will it go down as one of the great westerns of our time? Probably not. However, that's not really the point. Fuqua may not have much of an aesthetic stamp as a director, but he makes good fun films. He's now tackled the western genre which is not easy feet. This film plays out much more like an ensemble piece rather than a vehicle for one particular actor. Its so much better for that.