The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Compared to the truly magnificent 1960 original, this unlooked for western remake is unsurprisingly inferior. But after a summer of poor blockbuster fare, it’s passable entertainment in its own way.

Unburdened by any more ambition than a broad desire to be please, the film trots through the familiar story of a small posse of cowboys facing overwhelming odds.

There’s a liberal lifting of scenes and dialogue from the John Sturges version and a cheeky play of Elmer Bernstein’s majestic original score over the end credits. The new main score by the late James Horner is monumentally forgettable.

Reasons for watching include handsome photography, great period design and the no shortage of old school action. There are real sets, stuntmen and horses instead of CGI fakery. The $100M budget is all on screen.

Traditional western themes of comradeship, courage and loyalty are wrapped up in a glossy tale of redemption. This is an optimistic vision of how the US could still be won, with a rainbow society trying to overcome corporate greed and restore the church to the centre of civic life. This last point will resonate with US conservative Christians, a larger and more influential congregation across the pond than here in the UK.

Headliners Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are clearly enjoying themselves and their combined charisma is the film’s biggest strength. Vincent D’Onofrio adds more humour as a tracker, a fool who speaks truth to power.

The casting attempts to accurately reflect the ethnic mix of contemporary US, and presumably hopes to attract the audience which makes the multi-ethnic Fast Furious franchise such a global success. So the remaining gunslingers are respectively Chinese, Mexican and Native American. Sadly they’re so poorly scripted, their race is pretty much the extent of their characterisation. One is described as an assassin but they may as well have gone the whole hog and called him a ninja.

Washington stars as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, hired by a young widow who needs protection from a corrupt industrialist. Haley Bennett offers true grit as Emma, the only female speaking role of note.

It’s a shame there aren’t a few more women in the movie, or even – gasp – in the seven. Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Natalie Portman’s Jane’s Got A Gun featured strong willed gun-toting women. We could have done with more similarly natured women here.

Although Emma plays a small but crucial role, she definitely is not part of the all-male gang. As it is, she barely qualifies as the female Smurf. Amid all the back slapping diversity, fifty percent of the population are woefully under-represented. Except for whores, who are everywhere.

Chisolm has a personal reason for taking the job and recruits collection of desperadoes and misfits to defend the gold mining town. They include Pratt’s gambler and Hawke’s PSTD suffering civil war veteran.

Through a suitably sweeping landscape we move briskly from one action scene to another. The action is staged with occasional invention but at times the geography is unclear. This is especially true in the finale where our heroes face almost insurmountable odds and a seemingly infinite supply of ammunition. Until the smoke cleared I wasn’t sure exactly who had survived.

Peter Sarsgaard sketches without light or shade his consumptive black hearted villain, Bartholomew Bogue. He mostly acts apart from the Seven and with the protagonist isolated there’s a sense the film isn’t terribly interested in him. Consequently nor are we very much.

For long periods it’s agreeable crowd pleasing stuff. We’re reasonably entertained but never roused or excited. This not a disaster such as the recent Ben-Hur remake is, but it is quite far from magnificent.



The Equalizer

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2014)

British TV series The Equalizer gets a full Hollywood make-over in this glossy and violent action thriller.

Even sillier than the original it’s now a patriotic vigilante fantasy about defending homely American values against imported Russian vices.

The late Edward Woodward is replaced by Denzil Washington as widowed ex-CIA agent Robert McCall .

Played by Washington McCall can’t help but be charismatically charming and an impressively mean physical presence.

Living quietly, assisting colleagues with their careers and being an all-round good egg, he even finds the time for a little song and dance routine.

He’s moved to help local prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) when she’s hospitalised by her Russian Pimp Slavi (David Meunier).

Armed only with the novels of Hemingway and Mark Twain, McCall visits the gangsters and attempts to buy her freedom.

They reject his offer, there’s some peculiar and unnecessary stuff with a stopwatch and it ends impressively badly for them.

So evil oligarch Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich)  sends over his badass fixer, the sharp suited and silver-tongued Teddy (Marton Csokas).

AsTeddy begins hunting down McCall with the help of corrupt cops, our hero jets off to see his former boss Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) to warn her of the violence to come.

There’s no real reason for this but it’s a handy excuse to include a helicopter; this sort of film has to have a helicopter. And a dockside gunfight. And really big explosions to stride heroically away from towards the camera.

Washington does give good stride.

Action scenes are deftly handled but a strong opening is squandered and plot-holes are scattered all about as it descends into silly brutality.

Director Antoine Fuqua once made the brilliant Training Day (also with Washington) but now lifts all Guy Ritchie’s slow motion action moves but without the same elan.

The bloody finale takes place in a hardware store. A venue that always signifies the honest, hardworking, independence of American men – and provide McCall with a variety of grisly weapons.

Eventually good-hearted Yanks overcome a wave of Russians, embrace redemption, education and self-reliance while wrapping themselves up in the stars and stripes.