Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven—itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai—was the opening film at TIFF. I missed the press screening, so I had to wait a couple days to see it, and during that time everyone kept telling me how horrible it is. But then I finally saw it, and while it is 100% a commercial Hollywood action movie, it’s FINE. It’s good at being a commercial Hollywood action movie. It’s not doing anything new or fresh with the material, and it will probably play better to people who don’t know/remember the 1960 film, but it’s a solid bit of escapism.
Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter and “licensed lawman” who wears all black and has coordinated his horse to match his hat. One day while in town to kill some guy, Chisolm meets Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train), a recently bereaved widow. Emma is incredibly sad and hell-bent on revenge because she was married to Matt Bomer, the beautifulest man in the Old West, who was cravenly killed by Peter Sarsgaard because he just couldn’t handle Matt Bomer’s outrageously blue eyes.
Emma hires Chisolm to help her get revenge on Peter Sarsgaard, who, if he had a better written part, could have delivered a pretty sharp villain performance. But as is a consistent problem throughout Seven, his part is underwritten and doesn’t leave him much to do. Chisolm has a decent through-line, and Emma gets a nice little arc, but pretty much everyone else is left hanging. Chris Pratt makes more of his character, Faraday, than was on the page simply by being Chris Pratt, but not everyone is as engaged as he is. Ethan Hawke, for example, actually has one of the better written parts as Goodnight Robicheaux, a Civil War veteran struggling with PTSD and possibly an opium addiction, but he just seems sleepy for most of the movie.
So there’s not a lot happening in terms of character development, but even still Seven manages to be mostly fun. Especially once the seven get together, you can tell these guys were having a good time. Pratt plays Faraday as a probably-alcoholic lout who revels in his bad reputation even as he jumps at the chance to do something good—this is, I think, what his Han Solo would have looked like—and he has great chemistry with Washington. And Vincent D’Onofrio turns up as a trapper, Jack Horne, and gives such a delightfully weird performance that for a moment it feels like you’re watching an entirely different movie.
But the meat of the movie are the gun fights, and they’re very well staged. Fuqua knows how to do bombastic action sequences, and this Magnificent Seven is a Western action movie for the superhero era. The seven are basically a superhero collective, and they each have a “power” that helps them in their fight. And they’re just as interested in bantering with each other as they are in shooting bad guys. It’s like The Avengers in that the first half of the movie is just hanging around but then the second half is a balls-out fun action sequence.
And see if this sounds familiar: A woman willing to compromise her morals gets a kind of shady guy vaguely connected to the government to round up some reprobates to do her bidding, and together they take down an even worse villain than themselves. And it’s fun, the characters are all likeable without becoming cuddly, and everyone’s motivations actually make sense. The Magnificent Seven is basically what Suicide Squad should have been.
Attached - the Magnificent Seven cast at the New York premiere earlier this week.