Westerns in March: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

magnificent seven poster

Seven Samurai (1954) is one of my all-time favorite films. It would easily make my Top 5 list. It is full of adventure and action, romance and comedy. It has some of the best camerawork of any film and its themes of loyalty and justice, honor and duty speak directly to me. Its plot – that of a poor farming village hiring a group of masterless samurai to protect them from thieving bandits – has been the template for countless other films.

Its Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, was greatly influenced by American cinema, especially the westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks so it makes sense that an American, John Sturges, would turn the Seven Samurai into a western.

The Magnificent Seven (1960) turns the samurai into cowboys who are hired by poor Mexican farmers to protect them from some thieving bandits. It loses some of the thematic weight of Kurosawa’s film but it has a great cast (Including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson), a fantastic soundtrack from Elmer Bernstein and its a lot of fun to watch.

Hollywood seems to do nothing much anymore but make comic books movies and remake their own films and so naturally they remade The Magnificent Seven in 2016. If the original The Magnificent Seven is a pale imitation of Seven Samurai, then the remake is a paler imitation of the original.

It is kind of boring. No, that’s not the right word as there is a lot of action. It is forgettable. I watched it a week or so ago and I’d be hard-pressed to give you any detail about the film.

It follows the plot of the original, more or less. In this one, the bandits are robber barons, or rather robber baron (singular, played by Peter Sarsgaard) and his hired hands. The village is a frontier town and our villain isn’t raiding it for food, but has built a mine nearby and has more or less enslaved them as workers.

Denzel Washington leads the Seven. He’s good, as he is good in everything, but his character has none of the moral center that Yul Brynner’s version had. Brynner played it like a man who simply had to defend the village, but Washington’s character is in it for revenge.

Chris Pratt plays the Steve McQueen part. I’ve liked Pratt in other things but here he only proves that there will only ever be one Steve McQueen. The rest of the cast (including Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio) are fine, but mostly not that interesting (it took me a minute to realize D’Onofrio was even in the film he looks so different than he usually does, but his character is probably my favorite.)

It isn’t that this film is bad, it is that it is so completely unnecessary. If you want to watch a great film with a similar plot go watch Seven Samurai. If you want to watch a really enjoyable version of this film then watch the original. There is no reason to waste your time on this one.

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