The Magnificent Seven (12A)

Antoine Fuqua

IF you’re going to remake a classic, you must ensure that you come up with a bold adaptation that gives the story a new spin. That’s exactly what the director John Sturges did in 1960, when he turned Akira Kurosawa’s samurai drama Seven Samurai into a western, The Magnificent Seven, and struck movie gold.

Unfortunately, Antoine Fuqua hasn’t learned the lesson, keeping the title, the genre and the set-up of Sturges’s film. If that didn’t seem dull enough, he’s also failed to note an essential ingredient shared by Sturges’s western and the equally famous war film that he made three years later, The Great Escape: lots and lots of stars.

The action of Sturges’s films was matched by performers with lashings of personality and charisma – not just leading men, but actors like Charles Bronson and James Coburn in the western, Richard Attenborough and Donald Pleasance in the war film, who made us care about their characters. When your scenario involves heroic men on a mission most are unlikely to survive, the audience has to be invested emotionally in their fate.

All of which is to say that that if you’ve seen the original, this new Seven really won’t cut the mustard. If you haven’t, it’s a decent watch, with some exciting action, a few laughs, though next to no pathos.

The west, 1879. The settlers of the small town of Rose Creek are tyrannised by wealthy businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who plans to mine gold on their land and is giving them a simple choice: sell, or die. When her husband becomes an early victim, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) sets out to hire salvation.

Her first pick is Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a rare black man on the frontier and an unusual sort of bounty hunter – state-sanctioned and with no interest in the reward.

Chisolm is cut from familiar Washington cloth: decent, heroic, supremely able. Responding to the town’s plight, he sets out to enlist a ragtag but formidable band: a gambler (Chris Pratt), a sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), a Mexican outlaw, an Asian knife expert, a Comanche and a mountain man.

“Is it difficult?” one of them asks of the task facing them. “It’s impossible,” comes the casual reply. More interesting than whether they will put it off, is gauging each man’s particular motivation to risk his life for strangers, as they prepare the petrified burghers to take on the army of guns descending upon them.

In one of Fuqua’s best-known films, the crime thriller Training Day, Washington (co-starring alongside Hawke) won an Oscar for his uncharacteristic portrayal of a crooked cop. Though the cast here is not meant to be a carbon copy of the original, Washington still has the unenviable task of filling the space occupied with Zen brilliance by Yul Brynner, and falls short. He’s no more than a dependable presence, as is Pratt, so good in Guardians Of The Galaxy but on a hiding to nothing for anyone familiar with Steve McQueen.

Of the best-known names, Hawke fares better as a man whose confident banter belies the fact that he’s lost his nerve. But none of the other Seven have the star quality or the presence to really make an impact. The juiciest screen time is occupied by Saargard’s consumptive, dandyish yet dastardly villain.

Fuqua’s one obvious adjustment involves race: in the original, both the village and the villains were Mexican; here they are white American, while the Seven themselves are an ethnic mix. But having established the opportunity to explore America’s migrant beginnings, the director does next to nothing with it.

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