Directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1954, Seven Samurai was a groundbreaking film that had a profound influence on the evolution of cinema for many years. Superficially, that seminal work was merely a martial arts epic set in 16th century Japan. Yet, over the years, it has spawned a series of knockoffs that reprise the picture’s narrative about a team of selfless heroes who were recruited to achieve some lofty goal.
In 1960, Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven, a Western that co-starred Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn. Today, that classic has been remade by Antoine Fuqua in a film that reunites the director with Denzel Washington after their successful collaborations on The Equalizer (2014) and Training Day (2001). The latter film won an Academy Award.
This version of The Magnificent Seven has a few variations on the original theme. For example, the picture’s bad guy is now an avaricious white man who is intent on seizing a mining town’s gold — instead of a Mexican bandito who has been staging a series of border raids. And the good guys enlisted to take care of the greedy villains are a politically correct rainbow coalition comprised of heroes who come from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Otherwise, the essence of the original plot remains intact. As the film unfolds, we find that the people in the frontier settlement of Rose Creek are living in fear of Bartholomew Bogue and his gang of marauders. Bogue is your stereotypical, bloodthirsty villain, played to perfection by Peter Sarsgaard.
It is made clear just how low the diabolical Bogue will stoop to achieve his evil ends when he murders an innocent woman and burns the church to the ground. The frightened local people are at their wit’s end, and are glad to welcome the arrival in town of the bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington).
They have no idea that Chisolm isn’t being merely altruistic and that he has his own reasons to eliminate Bogue. After Chilsholm is deputized, he proceeds to assemble a crew composed of: a Civil War veteran suffering from shell shock (Ethan Hawke), a hard-drinking bombmaker (Chris Pratt), a gruff mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Chicano outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier), and a knife-throwing assassin (Byung-hun Lee).
Don’t expect any deeply-developed characters. The movie is about the inexorable march to the big showdown when the heroes even the score — and then some.
Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense violence, smoking, profanity, and suggestive material. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.