Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Peter Sarsgaard, Haley Bennett
Director: Antoine Fuqua
The Magnificent Seven, inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Seven Samurai, is really about eight people who come together to fight an evil force. Set in the Old West town of Rose Creek in the year 1879, this film is about how a ruthless industrialist, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), in his pursuit of gold, brings an entire town to its knees by seizing the land. Newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) enlists the help of Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a warrant officer/bounty hunter, who then assembles six more men to defend and liberate the town. This rat pack boasts of men from different walks of life — a gambler, an assassin, a sharpshooter, a tracker, a Mexican outlaw, and a Comanche warrior — who, initial monetary qualms notwithstanding, venture out for the thrill of it. They engage in skirmishes and train the townspeople to use firearms before the climactic battle takes place.
One aspect of the film that sticks out like a sore thumb is its historicity. Fuqua has commendably assembled a racially diverse cast in order to stay true to the demographics of 19th century America. However, were it not for Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), one would get the idea that the Civil War never took place. Robicheaux is a war veteran who suffers from (then undiagnosed) post-traumatic stress disorder. In alliance with Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), he engages in blood sport to make money, but is haunted by nightmares. In a scene when he has to train the farmers of Rose Creek at a shooting range, his former militaristic persona takes over and he yells, “You gotta hate what you’re firin’ at. Hate it!” But a demonstration of his skills as an adroit sharpshooter immediately leaves him visibly shaken and disturbed. And that is where the reference to a very recent and very crucial event in American history ends. The American Civil War was based on conscription; men across all social classes were drafted, but the men of Rose Creek — middle-aged in 1879, and therefore young boys during the war — are so inept with guns and rifles that not only can they not shoot their target, they also do not seem to know how to hold them.
“I’ve never shot anything that can shoot back,” says a farmer to Chisolm. This is either history in the process of being forgotten, or a loophole in Nic Pizzolatto’s screenplay, who is otherwise known for brilliantly marrying cinema to television in the form of HBO’s True Detective. Remaking any film is a Herculean task, and if the source in question happens to be one of the finest films ever made, the challenge increases exponentially. One such challenge is consolidating a three and a half hour long film for contemporary audiences used to 90-minute entertainers. The essence therefore, not unlike in translation, gets lost in the process, but also, like in translation, offers a new interpretation. Kurosawa’s film seamlessly embeds the plight of the peasantry in 16th century Japan with the heroics of the seven samurai; it reads like a Tolstoy novel. Fuqua’s Seven, as mentioned above, lacks this historicity. It becomes less about the farmers’ oppression in the face of capitalism, and more about a woman’s revenge for her husband’s murder, and in so doing, Fuqua provides us with the eighth magnifique.
Discarding stereotypes, Emma Cullen is a spitfire who refuses to hide away, and picks up arms to defend all that is dear to her. The plot of the film remains taut and there are no unnecessary frills involved; Chris Pratt’s Josh Farraday makes eyes at Emma, but that’s that. The ensemble cast does a decent job. Hawke shines in his traumatised role. Peter Sarsgaard, as the wily villain, makes the best of his very short time on-screen. Washington, in the lead role, however, seems a slightly out of place. Overall, the film is an earnest but tepid entry in the genre of the Western, and in spite of a new character, does not have a lot to offer that could qualify as memorable.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society...