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'The Magnificent Seven' Film Review: Remake rides high on the strength of its terrific ensemble cast

September 22, 2016Ben MK

Fresh from its world premiere at the 41st Toronto International Film Festival, The Magnificent Seven gallops into theaters this week, boasting an all-star cast that includes Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt. The question is — is the film able to fill the rather large footsteps left behind by the original 1960 version? Or are these Wild West gunslingers just shooting blanks?

Set in 1879, director Antoine Fuqua's remake roughly mirrors the structure of the John Sturges classic. Only this time, instead of Yul Bryner as the group's fearless leader, we have Washington, who plays a stoic (and equally fearless) bounty hunter named Sam Chisolm, who assembles a ragtag group of outlaws, wisecrackers and sharpshooters, made up of Josh Faraday (Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

Brought together to defend the beleaguered town of Rose Creek from ruthless prospector Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard), Chisolm and his gang of Wild West misfits also find themselves riding to the aid of widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), whose husband (Matt Bomer) was senselessly murdered by Bogue and his goons. To defeat Bogue, however, these antiheroes must not only draw upon all the firepower at their disposal, they must also use every trick up their sleeves. Because if there's one thing we learn about Bogue early on, it's that he doesn't play fair.

In the scenes that follow, Fuqua and writers Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto aren't just unafraid to fall back on the tropes and clich├ęs of the Western genre; they wholeheartedly embrace them. Yet, even though the filmmakers succeed at delivering a cinematic experience that upholds the tried-and-true aesthetics of a Western, the result is something of a mixed bag, as their single-minded focus leaves the movie hovering somewhere between the worlds of action and drama, with not enough of either to justify its hearty, 2-hour-plus running time.

Still, the film's rousing finale — the inevitable, third-act battle royal that pits Chisolm and his band of well-meaning, rough-around-the-edges hooligans against Bogue and his army of bloodthirsty, armed-to-the-teeth ne'er-do-wells — is almost worth the journey. Comprising a large chunk of the movie's final portion, it essentially equates to the Western version of the climax to an Avengers or an X-Men film, only with horses, dynamite and a gatling gun, instead of super-powered combatants, futuristic technology and an invading, alien armada.

As for the performances, Washington is reliably great as usual, if not a tad understated, as the film's lead protagonist, while Sarsgaard proves he's got what it takes to be a despicable villain. The standout performance of the movie, though, belongs to Pratt, who brings the same charismatic quippiness to his part as a quick-drawing jokester that he brought to his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. And together with the rest of the impressive ensemble cast, it makes for just magnificent enough of a reason for this remake to exist.

The Magnificent Seven releases September 23rd, 2016 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 12 Mins.

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