3 out of 5 stars
'What we lost in the fire, we found in the ashes.'
Justice is not really what Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is in the business to provide. He is a bounty hunter who is looking to find fugitives of the law for a price. When he is approached by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to provide righteous justice for the small town of Rose Creek against the land baron, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), Chislom is hesitant. After hearing the injustice that has being done against these innocent homesteaders, he decides to act and to recruit a motley bunch of outlaws, outcasts and hired guns to assist the small community. These seven renegades must work with the untrained people of Rose Creek to prepare for an onslaught of mercenaries in Bogue’s service. As the the training commences, the preparations are made and the eventual violent showdown comes to fruition, the intentions of the township and the seven unlikely heroes come to light.
It is a knife's edge experience to remake an iconic film, especially a western that is no longer the mainstay of Hollywood. Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw) has thrown himself into the proverbial director's crucible by revisiting this much loved Magnificent Seven. The cast is promising and the story of righteous justice touches on much of the human experience. As the anticipation builds, how did the celebrated director fair in this baptism by fire? The cinematography is beautiful and the adapted script from Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto make up for some of the directorial missteps, but the cast is what will draw in the audience.
This ensemble cast presents Fuqua with a rich field of personalities to explore. He works each actor through their paces and does an adequate job of getting each their needed screen time. Denzel Washington (The Equaliser) continues to prove to be the anchor that grounds the film by being the calm in the storm. He does not break new ground with this role, but was the right man to personify the spirit of Yule Brynner. The primary support comes from Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke who fill their roles effectively and provide the comedic and neurotic elements that pay homage to some of characters in the earlier version. The surprising stand out of this odd mob was Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World) who continues to prove is amazing range as an actor. His portrayal of the wilderness man Jack Horne brought a fresh levity to this dark interpretation of justice. Peter Sarsgaard (Knight and Day) gives an admirable performance as the evil land baron, but never quite rose to the villainy needed to carry the role through to the end. There were those in the cast who did not get as much time to develop their characters, but most served their purpose.
It was not casting that tripped up Fuqua in this modern day western. The first challenge had to do with present day political correctness. In an attempt to reinterpret history and make up for the wrongs of past generations, he undermines the historical value of the film. Every people group is represented in the seven fighters and with the addition of the strong female character in Haley Bennett (The Equaliser), the story is weighed down with too many characters. This aspect is understandable in these politically tenuous times, but the glaring weakness of the film was the poorly executed conclusion. This outing is darker and grander in scope than the John Sturges version, but for those who are willing to travel hopefully along the journey of the newest version will be let down by the finish. It can be said that artistically justified violence is at a fever pitch, but this is the poor direction of the final minutes which come off as an after thought and prove to be less than satisfying.
To say that Fuqua has set himself up for comparison is an understatement. What will determine audience's favourability of The Magnificent Seven will come down to how familiar people are with the original film. For those who have not seen the 1960 version, they will enjoy seeing some of their favourite present-day actors shoot it out on screen. For the rabid fans of the original and of the classic Seven Samurai, this will become a difficult experience to stomach. Regardless of which side you fall out on, if this version is allowed to stand on its own merits, it will make for an entertaining night out at the cinema.
REEL DIALOGUE: Where is the line between revenge and justice?
Definition of revenge: to exact punishment or expiation for a wrong on behalf of, especially in a resentful or vindictive spirit
Definition of justice: the administering of deserved punishment or reward or the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings
Can you see the difference? Which of these do you seek when someone does you wrong?
Passages on revenge and justice: Leviticus 19:18, Romans 12:19, Isaiah 30:18, Psalm 37: 27-29