Westerns, by their nature, are plastic things, archetypal in nature, drawing upon foundational myths to tell tales of bravado, revenge, and justice. When redundant remakes litter the screens it’s churlish to complain about the redux of a Western, especially one as storied as The Magnificent Seven.
John Sturges’ original of course echoed Kurosawa’s masterful Seven Samurai, which itself transplanted John Ford’s ethos to medieval Japan. We now have another level of reference, with an African American director adding another flavour and vision to this tale of a town needing help to fend off some nasty bandits, gathering an implausible group of outnumbered ruffians to stave off the onslaught.
Antoine Fuqua does a decent if at times frustratingly unremarkable job at making the story his own, with the script going out of its way to carve its own niche with the general structure. With his long-time collaborator Denzel Washington Fuqua manages to craft a dusty, hardscrabble West that give the motley crew a chance to shine. In Fuqua’s version they’re even more broadly drawn – the Asian assassin, the Native sharpshooter, the Irish drunk and the femme fatale – yet for the most part it all works, providing equal parts mood setting and thrilling action sequences.
The issue becomes that Fuqua borrows so heavily from earlier structures, yet employs modern cutting techniques, that the final battle feels more exhausting than exhilarating. After so much slaughter it’s hard to keep track, and we’re lost in the morass of combatants. Still, the film is at its heart a love letter to the genre and to two wonderful films that serve as both inspiration and, no doubt, consternation when it come to the hard task of making the narrative one’s own.
It’s hard to match up to masterpieces, and while Fuqua’s falls short of what came before, it still manages to be its own thing enough to feel like a fun little ride through the West.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2016 Coverage.