Much like the townsfolk of Magnificent Seven's fictional town, Rose Creek, when you mention the word "remake" people get the pitch forks and posse-up. As much of a classic John Sturge's original 1960 Mag 7 was, it was a remake itself of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. The story was pretty much the same; a village besieged by marauders hire a group of morally grey samurai's/gunslingers to defend it when the bandits return. Antoine Fuqua and Co. do something a little different with the story, whereby Peter Sarsgaard's industrialist, Bogue, terrorises the town to run them out and expand his gold mining operation. A minor re-jig to be sure, but one that establishes the big-bad in the opening few minutes. A few minor tweaks keep Magnificent Seven from being a straight-up remake. The townsfolk's recruitment of our heroes seems more desperate. In the original Brynner and McQueen stand up to ne'erdowells in the near by town. Here, Denzel Washington's Chisolm is a duly-appointed lawman and kills a wanted man. Washington may be the good man with a mysterious past, but with the exception of Ethan Hawke's sharpshooter, Goodnight Robicheaux, the rest are suitably ambiguous in their morals.
Whether or not you see these minor changes as respectful or less than brave, Magnificent Seven's real success is it's commitment to be a western of yore. Peacemakers are rarely holstered up without a spinning flourish, good guys run into buildings moments before bad guys are hurled through crashing windows, women of the night fan themselves outside saloons and there's even a few dusters to be seen. It's a gleeful homage to westerns in general. Rather than just pick a theme from Peckinpah or Leone, Mag 7 feels like a love letter to the Bank Holiday afternoon staples we're all too familiar with. The difference here, is that it's done with such effortless cool, you get caught up in the familiar rhythm of it all - even the signature fanfare of the original is subtly played on pipes in key moments.
If the studio were just fixin' to cash-in, this Magnificent Seven would be a shot-for-shot remake with marquee names, but the casting is superb. Seeing Washington and Hawke talk with their implied past is a treat not had since there outing with Fuqua in Training Day. D'onoforio goes for broke with the spiritual wild man, imbuing him with an almost child-like delivery. Pratt, being the man of the moment, could be seen as the one actor brought in just to put bums on seats, but when the character calls for effortless charm who better to saddle up among the heavy-hitters? Thankfully, everybody seems to be on-point when it comes to the moments they share. Clearly aware of how the wheels could come off this particular wagon if anyone is to give in to any grandstanding urges, this troop parley in the some of the most satisfying exchanges in recent memory.
The action impressively punctuates with beats of rawkus gunslinging. Even before we get to the epic climax the bodycount puts the Wild Bunch out to pasture. Let's be honest, what's a western without shoot outs? Here our posse are near untouchable in their ability to dispatch stubbly, tobacco-chomping adversaries and it's a deafening blast!
For a movie with a 133 minute running time, it does feel a little rushed in parts and some of the characters are side-lined only to be brought in when their skills are most needed. Similarly, only few of the townsfolk really get anything to do and it would have been nice to see some kind of progression in the effect our stetsoned heroes had on them. The final shot and monologue is also a little too saccharine and feels at odds with the spirit of our eponymous gang. Although these things don't derail the movie, they do leave a little taste of homebrand whisky rather than full-bodied bourbon.
3* - Fist full of hollas