Antoine Fuqua takes a step away from his usual gritty, violent, R-Rated action in favour of some gritty, violent, PG-13 action instead. While it’s not the first time he’s gone for a PG-13 (See: King Arthur) it’s seemingly the first time he’s done it without a proposed R-Rated director’s cut attached for home video. Taking on the wild west genre, Fuqua remakes a remake by giving his reimagining of The Magnificent Seven (which is a remake of Seven Samurai).
I personally find Fuqua to be one of the most hit or miss directors working today and even when his stuff hits, it doesn’t hit too hard; so my excitement going into this film was non-existent, but I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. That’s not to say it was a great film by any stretch, but it was most certainly a competent and entertaining western.
The story follows a group of seven outlaws, each with a penchant for justice and violence, band together in order to liberate a town from the clutches of a vicious industrialist. Peter Sarsgaard plays Bartholomew Bogue, a ruthless, greedy industrialist who strolls into the town of Rose Creek with the intention of pillaging the land and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Hayley Bennet (Jennifer Lawrence Clone #288) plays Emma Cullen, a strong woman at the end of her wits and recently widowed thanks to Bogue. She wants vengeance for her husband and protection for her town and in order to do that, she enlists the help of seven of the best and most fearless outlaws in the west.
- Chisolm, a bounty hunter (Denzel Washington)
- Faraday, a gambler and part time magician (Chris Pratt)
- Goodnight. a veteran sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke)
- Billy Rocks, a Korean assassin and Goodnight’s right hand man (Byung-Hun Lee)
- Vasquez, a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo)
- Red Harvest, a Native Indian warrior (Martin Sensmeier)
- Jack Horne, a brute-force survivalist tracker, (Vincent D’Onofrio)
These seven outlaws put aside any differences they have and agree to help turn the town of Rose Creek from scared cowards into fighters who can protect their land.
Now I know it’s obvious that this isn’t original, especially with it being effectively a double remake, but from a direction standpoint and a writing standpoint, it is in no way new. It’s as paint by numbers as you can get, but really that’s all you need to do to make an entertaining and serviceable western film.
I think it’s very, VERY difficult to fuck up a western (Unless you’re Seth McFarlane, in which it’s easy to fuck up almost anything) so it’s hard to judge the film on it’s unoriginality because it’s dealing with such familiar material. What this film does do really nicely, is respect the genre and doesn’t try to turn it into some Equalizer level bullshit action.
As I said before about Fuqua being hit or miss, two of his recent misses (hits to most people) were Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer and both films took place almost exclusively in the dark where it was near impossible to make out what was actually happening. Here he lets the action flourish on screen by shooting virtually every scene of action in glorious daylight at crack of dawn. There are very few moments of over stylized scenes of slow motion and bullets flying and I think that worked in its favour as that was something that caused many a face palm in some of his other work.
He truly captured the breathtaking scenery of the old west and respectfully paid homage to the classics. It was particularly nice to see that is was shot on 35mm Kodak film as the majority of his latest output has been shot digitally.
The films strengths are its visuals, acting and really terrific, very practical scenes of action; Denzel was great in this and wasn’t trying so hard to come off as a bad ass like he did in The Equalizer, it all seemed more natural here. Chris Pratt is as endearing as always as was Ethan Hawke, but one of the most unusual and highly entertaining performances comes from Vincent D’Onofrio, who has a shrill high voice but the look and abilities of a grizzled bear of a man. He provided the film with some of the more violent scenes, which is something I wanted to address.
This film is possibly the most violent PG-13 film I’ve seen in years, probably since the outstanding Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. The IFCO and BBFC gave it the PG-13 equivalent of a 12s rating. This has a colossal body count, brutal stabbings, maiming, arrows piercing people all over, heads being stomped in, people being blown up, torn to pieces with a gatling gun and generally just shot with pistols; but it features almost no blood. you could have 1/8 of the violence in this film with a few splashes of red and you’d have an easy 15s rating and an R rating. It was quite refreshing though to see a film do what the PG-13 rating was designed for and push towards the R rating while being accessible instead of being R-Rated and clawed back down to a censored PG-13 rating. I’m hoping more PG-13 films allow this level of grit into them so it can go back to what it used to be.
As I said before, it follows all the western tropes, it brings absolutely nothing new to the table and it even had one or two groan inducing moments purely because of over done, bad story telling, for instance; characters getting cold feet only to return immediately despite it being painfully obvious they would. Even a bridging scene to show them making this decision would have been nice. And moments where a character will be in peril and milliseconds before their final fate, they’re rescued. These kind of things are fairly prominent throughout and irked me a bit but not enough to make me not like the film.
It was written by Nic Pizzolatto who was responsible for one of the best singular seasons of television in TV history, True Detective, so it’s clear he was in charge of the parts where they took a more gritty and ballsy turn. A big title to start off with when moving from TV so hopefully he’ll be able to branch out more and work with some more big names, maybe Denis Villeneuve.
I do have a bone to pick with this film though, a scene at the beginning involves Denzel, a black bounty hunter, riding into town, turning lots of heads and then marching into a saloon to take out one of his bounties. When the sheriff arrives to see what the hullabaloo is all about, he walks out with his hands already raised, and holding a warrant for the bounty he just shot and effectively saying that the sheriff now owes him money… this is almost identical to the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s western masterpiece, Django Unchained, only with both Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz’s characters rolled into one. Luckily the film didn’t go more in that direction of using identical scenes from other films and stayed a bit more on track. There was a scene of yellow subtitles though… and let’s not overlook the fact the poster is EXACTLY like the poster for The Hateful Eight, which in its own right is a parody of The Magnificent Seven… Fuqua must be a Tarantino fan.
Out of all of Fuqua’s middle ground features, this is definitely one of the strongest; he did well with Southpaw but much like this, it lacked any kind of originality – it was the same run of the mill sports redemption drama that’s been made over and over for years, but he did it well. He’s shown he’s a capable film maker but I’d like to see him take more risks and do something truly original. He needs a new Training Day!
What I liked:
- Gorgeous landscape cinematography, showing respect to the golden age of western cinema
- Strong, well put together action scenes that echoed some atmosphere of the classics
- Shot on 35mm Film
- Strong performances from everyone involved
- Plenty of violence
- Some ballsy decisions that Hollywood might otherwise avoid
What I didn’t Like:
- Extremely unoriginal
- It followed a lot of the classic tropes in such a way that didn’t seem like an homage but more bad screenwriting
- Two moments mentioned earlier regarding cold feet and last minute rescues
- It didn’t really need to be called The Magnificent Seven, it could have just been a new western