Flawed but fun, “Seven” remake is magnificent time

Penn Harrison

The Seven have checkered pasts, little to lose and even less fear of a death they think is imminent. When they ride into battle to liberate a tiny town from a tyrannical miner, they go for broke.

Like their characters, Director Antoine Fuqua and “True Detective” screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto charge forward with fearless abandon. Though they fail to adequately analyze their story’s darkest moral, racial and religious topics, their remake of the 1960 film “The Magnificent Seven” soars as a crowd-pleasing whirlwind of a Western packed with wit and action. Pizzolatto and co-writer Richard Wenk’s script overflows with quotable one-liners, slapstick surprises and intelligent humor. 

Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) leads the pack, brimming with the confidence, a whip-smart will to action, and the sense of duty of Hollywood’s classic cowboys. Proving the Western leading role isn’t confined to white men, Washington walks comfortably not only in the footsteps of Yul Brynner in the 1960 original, but perhaps the boots of John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. 

Chris Pratt is irresistible as Faraday — a drinker, gambler and liar, but also a charmer, dedicated comrade and deadly gunman. Ethan Hawke provides strong support as Confederate veteran Goodnight Robicheaux, though his character lets him flaunt more marksmanship skills than acting chops. Fuqua gives too little screen time to other supporting roles: a knife-throwing Chinese assassin (Byung-hun Lee), an arrow-wielding Comanche (Martin Sensmeier) and a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). By contrast, Vincent D’Onofrio stands out as a hulking axe-swinger with a teddy bear’s heart, praying aloud for forgiveness even as he hacks his enemies to pieces.

Sarsgaard’s villain, Bogue, is the film’s weakest link — absent half the movie and cartoonishly shallow when he shows up. Bogue kills anyone who threatens him in cold blood, hell-bent to drive the entire population of his town off its property. Pizzolatto’s script gives him only one motive: profit. 

Between the fights, Fuqua grapples with greater thematic depth. Bogue’s men burn a chapel in the first scene, and its blackened shell looms over the town until the final battle, which finds Bogue and Chisholm mano a mano in the pulpit. Fuqua’s symbolic message is clear and inspiring: good has been injured, but will endure. These moments of raw thematic power are rare; Fuqua frequently abandons them for more shootouts.

Fortunately, he executes action spectacularly. It’s sharp, fluid and easy to follow. Fuqua handles his ensemble’s battles like Joss Whedon did in “The Avengers” — editing a channel of clarity through the chaos, focusing on each character long enough to give all seven individuals shining moments. Mauro Fiore’s cinematography echoes classic Westerns with panoramic vistas, and Fuqua slows the pace enough to highlight subtler visuals — the rustic colors of a saloon, the spectacle of horsemen galloping over a ridge, and, less fortunately, the obvious CGI mountains superimposed on Louisiana, where “The Magnificent Seven” was shot on location. 

Around that campfire, Robicheaux implores Chisolm to let past demons go and fight “the battle in front of us, not the one behind us.” The Seven, despite their flaws, win both. 

“The Magnificent Seven” is far from perfect, but it too wins both battles. It’s an affectionate tribute to past Westerns, particularly the original, and a vivacious testament that the genre has a bright future in the 21st century. 

“The Magnificent Seven”

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 132 minutes

Score: 3.5/5 stars