Postmodern and Tarantino-esque, Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the Western classic
Gunfight in Rose Creekby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The mythology of disparate anti-social individuals who find their moral compass when they band together for a selfless purpose is reinvented on film by every age in its own image. John Sturges’ 1960 US The Magnificent Seven was itself a remake of Akiro Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai. It prefigured the buddy adventure movies of future decades, down to today’s superhero genre. So seminal was it, that in 2013, the original The Magnificent Seven was selected for preservation in the US Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Now Antoine Fuqua’s contemporary remake is a tongue-in-cheek, postmodern and Tarnantino-esque version for our times. It’s also politically correct – there’s a woman leading the action and its seven are overtly multicultural.
Fuqua tranposes the story from a Mexican village to the American West. It’s the 19th century in the aftermath of the Civil War. In the small township of Rose Creek, honest hard-working and God-fearing settlers are being threatened by the villainous Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who is seizing their hard-won land so that his company can blast it with explosives for the gold beneath. Bogue tells the town, “With democracy comes capitalism. With capitalism comes God. You are standing in the way of God.” He’s the epitome of unbridled corporate greed and disregard for the environment, pillaging the earth and its resources in a way that evokes horror today. To reinforce the message of his intentions, his heavies shoot a few townspeople “pour encourager les autres” and burn down the church.
Denzel Washington is quietly dominating in the leading Yul Brynner role. His Sam Chisolm is a law enforcer and bounty hunter who rides into town dressed from head to foot in black and emanating cool. He’s pressurised by widow Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett), whose husband was killed by Bogue’s thugs, to help the townspeople stand up to Bogue’s tyranny. Surprisingly, he agrees – apparently a mercenary, he also has ulterior motives which are divulged later. He recruits a multiracial collection – though this is barely remarked on and Chisolm’s colour not at all – of skilled marksmen, outlaws and outsiders of various kinds. There’s Chris Pratt, in Steve McQueen’s role, as Faraday, the hard-drinking charmer who bemuses his opponents with card tricks; Ethan Hawke as Southern gentleman Goodnight Robicheaux, a former Confederate soldier with a secret, in the Robert Vaughan role; his knife-throwing Chinese sidekick Billy Rocks (Korean Byung-hun Lee); ‘Texican’ outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); burly Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne, a coonskin-capped backwoodsman who’s more bear than man; and lone Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), with a war-painted face and an unerring hand with a quiver of arrows. Washington and Hawke both worked together with Fuqua on his previous Training Day.
Following the structure of the original, after an initial skirmish, the final third of the film is an epic battle when Bogue returns with hundreds of horsemen to take back the rebellious town from the revolt led by the seven sharpshooters. In preparation, the seven have trained up the townsfolk to shoot and to man (and woman) the town’s defences and booby traps that they’ve constructed. The violence is so outrageous that the outnumbered marksmen potting heavy after heavy with their six-guns as their heads appear in shot becomes as emotionally involving as if they were playing Whac-a-mole. Defending the flimsy wooden-built town against wave after wave of an army that keeps on coming, the seven fire faultlessly, never once missing a deadly shot, and the body count rises to astronomical. An early machine gun even puts in an appearance. It’s an orgy of beautifully choreographed death and destruction – but not without humour. Chris Pratt reportedly called the film “two hours of kick-ass entertainment”. I don’t disagree.
Fuqua’s next project is to develop Dan Slater’s non-fiction Wolf Boys as a directing and producing vehicle. The drama follows two American teens recruited as killers for a Mexican cartel, and a Mexican-American detective who pursue them and who is worn down by the futility of the drug war.
The Magnificent Seven is released on 23 September 2016 in the UK.