Denzel Washington shoots from the hip in Antoine Fuqua's swaggering, multi-ethnic remake of the classic 1960 Western.
Denzel Washington rides tall in the saddle in this remake of John Sturges’ classic 1960 Western - itself a remake, of course, of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic Seven Samurai - and his cool charisma rubs off on the movie. This slickly entertaining The Magnificent Seven has a swagger all its own and is not at all the travesty many feared.
As expected, director Antoine Fuqua has retooled the original for the 21st Century. But the basic plot remains the same, as are many of the story and character beats we encounter along the way. Once again, a beleaguered community turns to a bunch of gunslingers to repel a rapacious enemy. This time, however, Fuqua puts a different complexion on things.
In 1960 the victims and villain were Mexican and their saviours white. Here, a defiantly multi-ethnic gang of heroes are the ones riding to the rescue when Peter Sarsgaard’s sneering mining tycoon Bartholomew Bogue – white, male and a rampant capitalist – threatens the mostly white inhabitants of frontier settlement Rose Creek.
"A feisty young woman"
And it’s a feisty young woman, Haley Bennett’s widowed Emma, who hires Washington’s bounty hunter Sam Chisholm for the job of defending the townsfolk from Bogue's army of thugs. He in turn recruits Chris Pratt’s wisecracking gambler Josh Farraday, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Mexican outlaw Vasquez, Ethan Hawke’s jittery sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux and his knife-wielding Korean sidekick Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), plus ornery trapper Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Comanche loner Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
The group could hardly be more diverse, and some (mild) racial slurs and jibes pass back and forth before they bond. That said, no one in the film, whether friend or foe, notices that the Seven’s leader is black.
"Shooting from the hip"
Even with the best will in the world, it’s impossible to claim the movie as another classic. Fuqua doesn’t recapture the infectious camaraderie of the Sturges septet, and he doesn’t come up with any truly iconic moments to match his predecessor. Even more unforgivably, he denies us Elmer Bernstein’s glorious theme until the closing credits.
But he does deliver when it comes to the final showdown: it’s terrific, a spectacular shootout that relies on old-school stunt work rather than CGI to make an impact. Besides, the sight of Denzel twirling his six-guns and shooting from the hip will be more than enough, for many, to make The Magnificent Seven a rousing success.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 133 mins. Director Antoine Fuqua
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A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.