Always a middling director with a love for action, Antoine Fuqua sampled excessive violence with 2007’s Shooter, but lost his mind with 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen. The reign of terror continued in 2014’s The Equalizer, which took a simple television program about revenge and transformed it into a bloodbath.
Fuqua enjoys senseless brutality, which helps to distract from his storytelling deficiencies, but now he’s walking on hallowed ground with The Magnificent Seven, one of the finest westerns ever made.
Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Antoine Fuqua turns The Maginificent Seven into a mindless bloodbath.
In a remote town, Emma (Haley Bennett) witnesses the wrath of industrialist Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who’s in the process of stripping the land for gold, terrorizing those who won’t sell their property and clear out. Searching for help, Emma comes across Sam (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter with unbeatable gunfighter skills.
Offering the stranger a small fortune to repel Bogue and his army of enforcers, Sam elects to build his own force for justice, turning to rapscallion alcoholic Farraday (Chris Pratt), feral tracker Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), ex-sharpshooter Goodnight (Ethan Hawke) and his partner, Billy (Byung-hun Lee), and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Clearing the area of goons, the gang hunkers down and prepares for the fight ahead, working to train remaining residents in the art of war.
One major mistake was casting Sarsgaard, robbing the picture of the menace that a more interesting choice might bring. Instead, we have Sarsgaard making mean faces, gunning down Emma’s husband—an act of cruelty that sets the plot in motion, but also pinpoints the shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude of the movie, which rarely goes a moment without someone taking a bullet.
The performances are compelling, especially Hawke’s turn as Goodnight, giving a slightly tilted take on the haunted gunfighter routine. Washington is secure as the man-in-black, showing authority Fuqua needs to keep the story steady. Pratt isn’t challenged, employed to be an audience-pleasing rogue, relying on smirks to get by. It works, but only if you already find the actor appealing.
The picture’s climax feels like it eats up half the film, depicting an all-out war between the heroes and villains, which is set up through training sequences. Select moments resemble a theme park stunt show, including a tiny bit of trick riding, but the conclusion is mostly about explosions and a growing body count.
Fuqua’s habitual overkill puts the picture into a coma, making the final fight feel like it unfolds over a century. There’s no reason to be precious about the feature’s status as a remake (after all, the original was a reworking of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), but there’s plenty to reject about this joyless effort.