In 1952, Akira Kurosawa created a stir in international audiences with his iconic film, Seven Samurai. The film is not only one of the most famous films in Japanese cinema, but it also sparked major influence in American works. From Saving Private Ryan to A Bug’s Life, Kurosawa is present in many different genres. Its most famous adaptation is the 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven. Similar to its Japanese predecessor, it follows seven unlikely allies as they fight to save an oppressed Mexican village.
As great as The Magnificent Seven is, there’s no denying that it is a white savior story. Seven white men are defending a Mexican village from bandits (who happened to be lead by a Jewish Eli Wallach portraying a Mexican). Antoine Fuqua wanted to revamp that story by adding a little bit more diversity into the mix. In lieu of seven white men, now there’s a mixture of White, Chinese, Native American, and Black individuals. Instead of pleading for Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) for help, the townsfolk are begging Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to help save their town from the greedy businessman, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). In order to take on Bogue’s army, Chisolm will recruit six other men from entirely different backgrounds to inspire the town to fight back.
In Fuqua’s universe, race doesn’t exist. Depending on how you look at it, that can either be a good or bad thing. It’s great that the white folks don’t see color and treat these men like everyone else, but in a time where racism was huge, it would have been interesting to see how Fuqua went about it. The original Magnificent Seven was about class relations, so he could have easily illustrated the racial tensions. I found it a little hard to believe that a town of white people would be so welcoming of a brigade comprised of Black, Chinese, and Native American men. But on the other hand, it was refreshing to see Denzel being treated as a bounty hunter rather than a Black bounty hunter.
But even with the colorful casting, the film still suffered from a hollow plot. The film was over two hours long, yet we didn’t get to know any of the characters. Washington does what he does best, so there’s nothing more to say about him, but the other characters had so much potential to be interesting. Chris Pratt got an undeservedly large amount of screentime, but acted more like Star Lord in a western than an actual cowboy. Besides Washington, the other members were frequently forgotten and reduced to quirky one-liners here and there. Out of all of them, Vincent D’Onofrio seemed to have the most fun with his over exaggerated accent and warm appearance, but even his interesting backstory didn’t get developed (How could Fuqua not create tension between a Native American and a Native American scalper?)
Sarsgaard usually has a memorable presence on screen, but he was quite forgettable as the villainous Bogue. His performance lacked any depth and was equivalent to a mustache twirling businessman. His motivations were simple, but he wasn’t that much of a threat to the audience. His lack of scenes made him feel like a throwaway character rather than the big guy that the film was heading towards.
Though the film’s plot ultimately falls flat, there is still enough action to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. Its slow buildup is rewarded with an epic shootout that is beautifully shot and choreographed. Even though it’s PG-13, Fuqua did not go light with the violence and brought knives, hatchets, and dynamite to the gunfight.
After a disappointing blockbuster season, The Magnificent Seven was the popcorn flick that we’ve been waiting for. With a diverse group of cowboys set in a bloody standoff, Fuqua gives us the Suicide Squad that we deserve.