The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is a masterpiece. There are people who may try to argue this, but they are simply wrong. Kurosawa painted a tale of modern mythology that all others would try to follow. Then they did six years later in 1960 with an American version of it, a western of course as was the course for the day, with an established director John Sturges at the helm. He put together a cast of what we think of now as legends of the industry Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Eli Wallach. The story is the same, the beats are the same, the setting is different. While it is a silver age representation of how we take great films from other countries and remake them (I am looking at you Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In), in and of itself it is just as iconic. Needless to say when the first trailer released only a few months ago for this version some 50+ years later many were dubious of someone messing with a classic.
So do we need to have a showdown at high noon?
The movie appropriately gives credit to the original with screenplay credits for Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni; but then gives us screenplay credits for Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto. Wenk has shown up in my reviews before for his work on Vamp and The Equalizer. We will also see him behind the ben on the Jack Reacher sequel. Pizzolatto comes from the world of TV where he worked on the critically acclaimed True Detective and a few episodes of The Killing. They make the required changes for what we know now and do little more to enhance the story or alter it in any significant way. Some of the alterations seem to be detractors from otherwise solid but simply ok material. Once again the story changes little, with a town in peril paying for seven drifters with pasts …and presents as warriors to defend them. This is not just the last stand for the town, but the last chance for …peace, redemption, revenge, or mayhaps even to be legendary themselves.
Director Antoine Fuqua was the right man for this role. I saw his name on the original trailer and was pleased, despite the musical choices. There is absolutely not a single film of Fuqua’s I don’t like (that I’ve seen). King Arthur (2004), Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer, and most would call out Training Day. The man can shoot a film. He has an excellent sense for blocking, pacing, and how to get the most from his actors. His action scenes are visceral in their brutality yet tame enough and safe enough for easy consumption. The same holds true here. The tension as one of the gunfights prepares to break out is palpable. When the cord snaps, we are treated to a fast moving but accessible, more importantly, watchable series of events that tell you everything you need to know about who you are dealing with.
The actors are great. Denzel doesn’t Denzel too much and does well as Chisolm. Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday our Gambler shows he can do a special intensity that was appropriate but sadly lacks some, but not all, of his usual charm. Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux is amazing and it is a bit weird to think of Ethan Hawke being one of the older men in the group. His companion Billy Rocks played fantastically by the criminally under used (in other projects) Byung-hun Lee (Red 2, both GI Joe Movie) has such wonderful chemistry with Hawke, I buy these two as good friends. Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World, Daredevil) completely vanishes into Jack Horne, the old tracker brought along. Haley Bennett plays our woman seeking revenge on the man (Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue) who killed her husband and delivers as well as everyone else. It’s nice when a competent director gets all good actors! Manuel Garcia Rulfo (born in Mexico) and Martin Sensmeier (Heritage: Tlingit and Koyukon-Athabascan) round out our unlikely group. Now you might be asking why I don’t list their credits, but their heritage. It’s a fair question, but in my small war against white washing, it’s important to call out when the right people are cast for the right roles, as in this case both men are cast to play a Mexican and a Native American. It is that rare that it deserves mention – Representation is important!!! Cast diversity is some of the widest non token characters I have seen in some time.
Sadly, the movie does have flaws that need to be called out. Bennett’s a single stumble or trip away from a wardrobe malfunction for reasons we cannot fathom and sporting a shade of red hair that doesn’t come naturally from roots. It’s a lovely shade but jarringly noticeable as they keep calling attention to it with the light. The normally on point James Horner, working with Simon Franglen, fails the movie musically. This isn’t to say the music is bad. It’s just generic western. There are several beats of the movie where you would want or expect the music to take a different tone or just be different, but it’s a little too loud, little too wrong, and just not right. Again, it isn’t bad! It just is wrong for the movie and doesn’t resonate as well as it should. The music should bring you in more and tell a story its own and tell you what to feel. Sometimes it does, but too many noticable times it breaks the mood in a wrong direction.
I wish I could say that the costuming on Haley and Horner’s music were the only flaws.
I want to know what…no I demand to know what is going on in Hollywood. The movie editing on some of these pictures this year is horrendous. Some of it is the studio (Batman V Superman) others are totally inexplicable. Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad come to mind. There’s a better film on the editing room floor. Too many scenes cut short. Too many scenes that needed 3o seconds more of dialogue or a minute longer of the right people connecting and talking. The actors did well, but the editor didn’t do them any favours. It made it hard at times to connect to them the way you are intended, and while many moments are earned by inference they are not earned on the lens and in the frame. Conversations between old soldiers, old friends, and even old enemies could have happened and were missed or otherwise cut. This is why I say the actors did well, but I think they could have been even better (as good as they were!). That is disappointing.
The Magnificent Seven is a solid good. It will never be the classic that either of the films it drew from are. It didn’t earn that, but it could have. There’s a better movie somewhere in here. Somewhere on an editing room floor and I want to see that movie. It might be three hours, but it would be a worthy three hours. There’s intensity here that works in a lot of scenes, but other parts just are off enough that what should be important isn’t. Others are something that could be studied by other lesser directors.
I have a sense some studio interference happened here. I can’t say why, but I am 99% sure it did. The film could have been so much better and I regret we may never see that movie.
Should I see it?
The movie is good. It’s watchable. I enjoyed it. There are a lot of people who will and should see it this weekend. I can easily recommend it to them without doubting it.
Do not dare compare it to the original (either of them). It will disappoint.
Will you watch it again?
Matinee maybe? Not full price.
How about BluRay?
I am on vacation and it will span over the next two thursdays. Which means I may not get to Miss Peregrine for a bit and that makes me sad I am looking forward to it, but it feels weird to go on vacation and sit in a theatre when I could be out “doing”
That also means I may not do a review a day this October as the first 8 days I won’t be home and at times won’t have internet. Yes, I am going to a place without net. I am not sure if you should cheer or weep.
We will see what happens. Don’t begrudge me the vacation…please?