Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Running Time: 133mins
Synopsis: When the townsfolk of Rose Creek are terrorised by greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his men, one woman Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett) seeks out a bounty hunter (Washington) to save them. He in turn recruits a mismatched band of men to tackle the challenge.
Talk about remake fatigue, how’s this for weariness. A remake of a remake, the 1960 Yul Brynner Western was in turn a redo of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa pic Seven Samurai, and consequently two movies that have influenced a great deal of directors. Samurai was a key work for George Lucas in creating Star Wars, and the ’60 Seven has been an important milestone for Western fans and influenced such things as the TV show The A Team. Therefore remaking it once more is probably one of the least surprising moves made by a remake happy Hollywood, but the question is does this one offer anything potentially influential itself or at best does it at least not besmirch those original classics?
Unfortunately this version does not do anything that could be considered influential or overtly unique. Fuqua is a solid director and this is probably his strongest work since Training Day but, other than some muscular well staged action set-pieces, nothing here will come as a surprise for any Western fan. Wide-scoped shots of beautiful landscapes, bleak towns and even bleaker populations, tough rugged men but with hidden vulnerabilities, you know the drill. It all moves at a quick enough pace, for 133mins it feels relatively brisk, and the final shootout is 25mins of impressively staged chaos with a number of quietly moving emotional beats. So by this point you probably won’t care that you’ve seen a lot of this before.
On the flip-side this new Seven in no way casts a shadow on those previous versions. The decent direction helps but this new version’s power lies in the effective cast Fuqua has put together. Washington is a captivating lead as per usual, although the material doesn’t exactly stretch him. The same goes for Chris Pratt, with his natural charisma and cheeky glint in the eye he is immensely watchable even with a somewhat flat role. There appears to be an attempt to give him some extra complexity in his gambling and alcohol addiction but this drifts away with very little substance.
Ostensibly the leads they are given fine support from the rest of this miserly band. A much welcomed racially diverse group of individuals whom each get a moment to shine (although it’s hard to deny that the more minority members of the group get lesser screentime and lines) with Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke making strong impressions. Hawke has the most to work with, his character facing a real crisis in conscience around whether he truly is a killer anymore, and he brings true pathos to the part. D’Onofrio is similar, adopting a strangely high pitched voice and a rough hewn bearlike appearance, he comes across as a brute but has unexpected depths beneath the bearskin jackets.
The most deserving shout-out should go to relative newcomer, and Jennifer Lawrence resembling, Hayley Bennett. Although she has resting crying face in seemingly every scene she manages to convey a woman of real strength and conviction, without resorting to cliche. It’s a calling card for her potential, and after next months Girl on the Train, Bennett could be the next big thing.
One aspect that cannot go unnoticed is just how quick this group get together and bond. Part of the strength of this concept, the ‘getting the band together’ idea, is in the inherent friction people have when pushed into a group. There is a smidgen of that in Seven but it is fleeting and resolved all too quick in favour of jokey quips. Don’t get me wrong the laughs are good and is hugely entertaining but the lack of tension is notable. They also join up far too easily as well. In such a rush to get them to the town and into the action, most of the gang I am genuinely unsure as to why they would risk their lives so easily, that when members start to get bumped off the emotional effect is somewhat lessened. Even Washington’s motivations are murky until the final act, which does lead to a nice well acted revelation, but in building such mystery it leaves you questioning the earlier moments of charitable nobility. If you don’t understand why our heroes are doing all this then the audience can’t help but become less involved. They may be Magnificent but they also seem a little easily swayed.
Verdict: A great cast and decent action help to save flat and familiar material. Entertaining but you won’t see anything you won’t have seen before. Just call them The Perfectly Watchable Seven!