No number is more enshrined in film history than seven. It’s the number of dwarves Snow White grooms, the number of sins that haunt Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, and it’s James Bond’s calling card. The number of Gods of Luck and Good Fortune in Japan, seven was set in cinematic stone by Akira Kurosawa and his band of samurai. A remake of a trans-Pacific remake later and that number flashes up again, greeted by the scowl of a double-Oscar-winner and his multicultural clan of rag-tag misfits.
Built to purpose, the stars in The Magnificent Seven shine brighter than Rihanna’s favourite diamond. The impeccable Denzel Washington, the charm radiator Chris Pratt and the aggressively hipster Ethan Hawke may have their names emblazoned highest on the posters, but this is not just about star power. Under the publicity veil is a cast as diverse as a Western has ever seen. As Fuqua put it himself, this is the tale of “black, white, Asian, Mexican, Native American, a white woman, all coming together to fight injustice.” The UN would be proud.
In collecting this mix of talent to fill his dusty vistas, Fuqua knows the political won’t be ignored. He also knows that the political will be quickly forgotten when the action starts pumping. This is no Moonlight. With a cast as tightly-packed as Chris Pratt’s chaps, and a budget capable of sending the central clash stratospheric, entertainment is the name of the game.
The Magnificent Seven provides this entertainment in abundance. After a greedy, gold-obsessed tycoon shatters the idyll of this year’s most astonishingly beautiful couple, we are set to follow a moral lawmaker round up a forum of individuals to do the ‘impossible’: serve lead-fuelled justice. As we meet each new vagabond, from the sharp-tongued to the tongue-tied, unique quirks are quickly doled out. Each Magnificent is distinct, but their introductions quickly fall into verse and chorus, becoming almost as repetitive as an Olly Murs chart-middler. Byung-hun Lee spikes interest, D’Onofrio occasionally sounds likes he’s doing a Bad Lip Reading of his own performance, whilst most of the premier spots are afforded to the Parks And Rec breakout. Pratt has the gift of the gab and the aura of a hustler, but provides little originality.
When assembled, the campfire cowboys rapidly become freedom fighters, focusing on the climatic conflict with the quietly threatening Bogue (Sarsgaard). The inner turmoil of Hawke’s remorseful Grim Reaper breaks up the training montage monotony, but itchy feet fester in the battle build up. Any jitters soon disappear as the fight begins, and Fuqua starts having fun. Conducting a hundred-odd horses in a hundred-odd Fahrenheit is no mean feat, making the speed and lightness Fuqua brings to the single-fire destruction doubly impressive. This lightness comes at the expense of grit, the near-genocidal levels of death never feel remotely harrowing, but this is symptomatic of its certificate. This is not your dad’s Western, but one for the casual Red Dead Redemption-er. Enemies fire with the accuracy of a near-sighted stormtrooper and the outcome is long signposted.
Thankfully, a once-in-a-generation talent elevates material that could have fallen into distinct, if enjoyable, mediocrity. Washington, a star of classic proportions, brings class, distinction and a hearty handful of gravitas to a feather-light role. One should not expect any less from a man who has been doing exactly that for so long, but seeming him perform is still a bewitching experience. What sets him apart is that he rally cares.
As, equally, does Fuqua. His impassioned ambition to honour Kurosawa’s legacy is obvious almost every time he opens his mouth, but it may have held his Magnificent Seven back. Whilst his adaptation is infused with jovial humour and is orchestrated by a spot-on score from the late James Horner, the DNA of its cinematic legacy predictably prevented it from stamping it’s own hoofprint on history.
Chris Pratt has described the film as “two hours of kick-ass entertainment”, and if that is the aim, few will be overly disappointed. I have faith that Fuqua will make a truly brilliant follow-up to Training Day one day, but for now, I’ll keep waiting.
The Magnificent Seven is in UK cinemas from Friday.
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