In 1966 the world heard for the first time Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstacy of Gold during Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s a haunting, delicate orchestral piece of music that perfectly encapsulates The Western and it remains one of the most seminal cinema scores of all time. The Ramones used it as their entrance song for a while and then in 1983 Metallica hijacked it, bastardised it and made their own rock version of the song. Both versions are works of art in their own right; both iconic, soaring instrumentals and both exist on different ends of the spectrum in the music world. There is no comparison between the two because while they tread the same ground, they are two different beasts entirely.
Handing the reigns over to Denzel Washington for a third time as his leading man, Antoine Fuqua has assembled a much more culturally diverse band of mercenaries for his take on The Magnificent Seven than the ensemble cast of 1960 and the story of a Mexican village being plundered by a group of bandits has been gutted and replaced to make way for a narrative that tries to fuse a more modern social commentary with notions of the grip that capitalism has forged on western culture.
Here, a wealthy businessman by the name of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) delivers an ultimatum to a small town near to a mine he owns: sell your land or be driven from it forcefully. Backed by an army of thugs and with the local law enforcement bought and paid for, Bogue sends a bloody message to the townsfolk and disappears, leaving the locals a short deadline to decide their fate. When vengeful widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, playing the part with a steely resoluteness) takes it upon herself to hire a group of wayward warriors to intervene on their behalf, the people of the town must choose to fight to protect their homes or flee in search of an elsewhere sanctuary.
Fuqua’s movie only barely scratches the surface though of the many threads that weave their way through the plot. A lot of the characters remain underdeveloped and in particular Sarsgaard as the sinister Bogue is criminally underused, bookending the movie in more of an extended cameo so that we never fully understand the reasons he so desperately wants this particular plot of land. The titular seven are all given serviceable screen time but it is Washington and Chris Pratt who shoulder the bulk of the heroics. Denzel’s Sam Chisolm is an imposing, enigmatic cowboy and the role perfectly showcases the natural magnetism the actor has. Pratt puts to good use the mellow, affable charm that has served him so well and his roguish Josh Faraday – Star Lord with a six shooter – is a welcome foil to Chisolm’s brooding, stoic warrant officer.
John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven was a noble remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. Transporting the eastern setting of Kurosawa’s adventurous tale of honour to the frontier of the wild west, it was a product of a time when culture romanticised the untamed landscape of America and the vigilante heroes that roamed its plains in search of rights to wrong. Antoine Fuqua, has crafted something that tells a sadly more identifiable story at it’s core, a thinly veiled allegory of communities feeling compelled to close ranks to protect themselves in the face of greed and murderous power. That they choose to use brutal violence to do so is a bleak reflection of a modern America where moral lines blur further every day.
In spite of the plot’s grim undercurrent his film’s warm embrace of spectacular shoot-outs is what propels is along and singles it out in a summer dominated by superheroes and kid’s movies. The Magnificent Seven looks gorgeous, with Fuqua happy to capitalise on the genre’s quintessential ingredients. As his lens lingers on tracking shots of beautiful open countryside and riders on horseback silhouetted against a golden sunset, James Horner’s towering score slowly building to crescendo, it’s hard to dispute the allure of that once-romanticised American vision. And when the blood begins to spill, Fuqua laces the onslaught with a shocking ferociousness and drops a body count that would leave Sam Pekinpah wincing.
Antoine Fuqua’s Western is less a faithful remake of an undisputed classic and more a bullet ridden homage to a genre that once defined action cinema. The Magnificent Seven is slick, stylish and crackles with energy. What it lacks in depth or nuance it makes up for in spectacle. This is action in broad strokes. Dizzying, furious gunplay and thunderous, destructive set-pieces. Magnificent? No. Explosive, chaotic fun? Oh hell yes.