Thu 2 Feb 2017
The Japanese master Akira Kurosawa is credited for the original script (and remarkable movie) Seven Samurai made in 1954. Six years later an American remake named The Magnificent Seven provided one of the exception of that rule too often true which says that Hollywood remakes are much worse pictures than the non-American original movies they are based upon. John Sturges‘ film was actually very good (in my opinion) because of the presence of great action movies stars like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and because it translated well the code of honor of the samurais in the rules of ethics that made eventually the lawless Wild West into a cradle of an efficient and lawful society. So the question may be asked – why do another Hollywood remake in 2016. One answer is of course – because more than half a century passed and the Western evolved. The problem is that in processing the script for the 21st century the writers and producers felt the need to add a dimension that was practically absent from the previous 7s – multiculturalism. And so, in two hops, we get from the mono-cultural Japanese saga with samurais to an internationalized (and PC – suspect) story that may fit some of the 21st century taste, but seems less credible in a 19th century setting.
The team of mercenaries assembled by law man Denzel Washington to protect the citizens of the city threatened to be taken over by an avid landlord and his army includes almost all the races and nations that populate the America of that time in an ‘international’ team that will work, fight and (some) die flawlessly. Nice idea, but lacking credibility. Worse – all with the exception of Washington‘s character lack consistency, they are more the stereotype that they are supposed to represent than real characters we get to care about, even when they are hurt or die.
Otherwise, it’s a good action movie, respecting the basic rules of the action Western films. One cannot expect Denzel Washington to provide anything but a fine performance. He worked with director Antoine Fuqua in The Equalizer and was lucky for a more consistent and complex role there. Haley Bennett was also present in The Equalizer, here, in The Magnificent Seven she seems to be a little too young and a little too pretty for the role of the beautiful widow who gathers the team of mercenaries. Fine actors as Chris Pratt or Ethan Hawke get too little substance in their roles to be remembered. The action scenes are reasonably well made, but there is nothing special to remember the day after the screening.
The ‘Wild’ West at the end of the 19th century was many things, but what it was not was a multi-cultural and tolerant society. One can describe it as such, but this smells of historical revisionism or political correctness. The West may have been populated by different nationalities, but they were far from equal and far from living and acting in harmony – this is the historical truth. Taking into account that today’s American society is as well far from having overcome all its traumas related to its attitude towards race and minorities, maybe such an alternate view can be regarded as an act of balancing. All good, but this does not automatically translate into good cinema.