“What we lost in the fire, we’ll find in the ashes.”
It’s been 56 years since Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen burst onto the screen introducing a generation to one of the greatest Westerns of all time. Now, director Antoine Funque (Training Day) has decided to resurrect a nearly extinct genre for a new generation of cowboys.
If you’re familiar with my reviews, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of remakes or reboots, especially when you’re tapping into golden nostalgia. I’m also not a fan of Westerns or shoot-em-up flicks, so what sold me on The Magnificent Seven?
The Magnificent Seven (1960) is actually a remake of the 1954 Japanese epic Seven Samurai. Whether or not you believe this is a story in need of of re-tellling, Funqua cites our current political atmosphere is the perfect opportunity to modernize a classic with diverse heroes attempting to halt political corruption.
Cinephiles have to wait until the Fall for studios unleash the Oscar contenders and more substantial blockbusters. As Trevor Dueck noticed “Summer 2016 was a bit lackluster, but the September-to-December offerings should renew our love for film with some well-told stories. It was kind of funny to see how many people were pissed off that they made a remake of The Magnificent Seven. Regardless, this film has two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars in Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt.”
The film follows seven gun men in 1879 in the old west who gradually come together to help a poor village against corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The seven include Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
What initially had me apprehensive about the film was the desire to re-create a classic, albeit one I’ve never seen, but Fuqua impressed me with his reasoning for re-opening this Western file.
“One of the most important things is that I believe in what Kurosawa said [with] Seven Samurai, and what Sturges continued: People coming together to stop tyranny. And the idea that perfect strangers that may be a little rough around the edges, flawed characters, can still do the right thing. They were fighting against something bigger than themselves. We’re still dealing with people who are just terrorizing other people. We’re still dealing with people who are abusing other people, burning up the churches, killing people in the streets.” Antoine Fuqua via IndieWire
The relevancy of the subject is undeniable, but without a completely perfect cast, this would be a tough film to sell for a third time. When Fuqua met with studio executives to begin casting, he found the cast originally selected were all white. Fortunately, he was able to sway the studio to give him a more diverse cast that audiences could relate to. And thank God for that.
But some disagree with Fuqua’s casting decisions.
“The Magnificent Seven, like another recent ragtag-band-of-outsiders-saving-the-day movie, Suicide Squad, is an awkward milestone in Hollywood’s ongoing and urgent conversation about representation. As a sheer feat of casting, it feels like it deserves a salute — a $100ish million remake of a 1960 Western in which four of the titular seven aren’t white. The Magnificent Seven is quick-shooting, dynamite-blasting evidence that the filmmakers and executives behind it agree that onscreen diversity is important, but not that they understand that diversity might mean something more than simply having characters of color show up.” via Buzzfeed.
Fuqua incorporated diverse casting decisions such as African-American Denzel Washington, Korean Byung-hun Lee and Mexican Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. It may sound like an unusual mix of characters for a period piece, but the final product felt like one of the least-forced diversified casting in recent memory and is actually not too unrealistic either.
It’s a decision Fuqua argues reflects historical reality more than it does any attempt to modernize the story. Fuque tells Vulture that “There were a lot of black cowboys, a lot of Native Americans; Asians working on the railroads. The truth of the West is more modern than the movies have been.”
The film also features a dominant female performance by Haley Bennett (The Equalizer, Hardcore Henry) who shows as much true grit as her male co-stars. It’s still a damsel in distress role, but this girl can also handle a rifle and take care of herself. She’s not your typical female character who relies on male characters to save her, and we can thank Fuqua for that.
What I can appreciate about Mag7 is that it transported me to a time I was unfamiliar with capturing all the nuances of the Old West: the dusty frontier, nomadic lifestyle, the bandits and lawmen, the spurs and cowboy boots. Fuqua’s comparison of old day to present day has made the film even more relevant than becoming your typical blockbuster.
“We still need some magnificent men and women, like we do have in our military and in our service community, to help stop that. But it it has to be all of us,” Fuqua said. “And that’s not just ‘us’ meaning America. Everybody has to throw a hand in there to help, you know? That’s what I think the movie says, how are we still dealing with the same thing? Why are we still dealing with taking advantage of other people this way? And that’s the idea there.” via IndieWire
What did you think of this modern Western? Let me know in the comments!