It’s time for this game again. This time our samurai are Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) tired, cynical, good-hearted; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) sleazy, opportunistic, often-drunk; and Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt) Chris Pratt. They’re joined by Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) who all seem more interesting but aren’t really given the time to develop.
There’s also a girl (actor [and notorious Jennifer Lawrence lookalike] Haley Bennett) this time. She doesn’t get to be part of the seven; kicks a fair amount of ass though. Just, y’know, on her own terms I guess.
The story is follows the same structure it always has. An oppressed town seeks saviours and finds them in a barely-qualified, mismatched pack of strays. Their intervention begets siege and during this they learn all the things which make stories worth telling. This version is rather more palatable to modern audiences. The villain, instead of being those dastardly Mexicans, is an authoritarian capitalist. Determined to take the town because it stands in the way of his gold, despite him already having a mine there and things being pretty cool before he decides to burn down the church. His motivations are a little murky. Whatever though, hardly matters, he’s the bad guy and he serves admirably, just with little nuance.
There’s nuance where it matters though, Washington proves once again he’s more than Uncle Denzel and, along with Ethan Hawke, they bring real humanity to their characters. Both reeling in their own ways from a civil war which they fought upon opposite sides of. Unfortunately the script by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk really doesn’t give them loads here. Their re-imagining gives the piece a 2016 reality but neglects to have its characters approach it with 1879 eyes. It’s hard, aside from the continued lack of gender diversity, the remade image of the Seven is a strong statement, but a conversation between a black unionist and a white confederate seems devoid of intent. I try not to want everything but there seems to have been a few missed shots here.
Chris Pratt doesn’t work here. He works in his scenes away from the ensemble but when alongside the rest he feels unfocused. Which is fine, he’s doing his stuff well, I think he needs a slightly firmer hand to keep him in line. I believe he’s doing what they ask of him, they’re just asking for something that keeps his character from arm’s reach of the rest of the players.
Aintone Fuqua does a great job of keeping things balanced for the most part though. His West is grimy and textured. He keeps the pace of the film speedy, especially during the scenes in which the town is preparing. During which the wheels of the plot start to grind a little. His key crime is in insufficiently defining the geography of the battleground as the whole final act is a pitched battle over this one small town, we should know where everything is. We don’t. And, having established these great interior sets, it’s a disappointment when the action is mostly exterior. And, while no one person can be blamed, when the Seven start to fall some of them barely register.
You’d have to be a fool not to realise this will probably be most people’s favourite Magnificent Seven. The Seven Samurai are a Legend now and people deserve Legends to reflect their cultural identity. I just wish it had been done a bit better. Ah well, let’s wait for the all women remake. People are gonna lose their shiiiii-