Four stars. Rated PG-13, and somewhat generously, for relentless violence and dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 9.23.16
This premise has been bulletproof ever since Akira Kurosawa introduced it, back in 1954.
It’s not merely a great set-up for an action epic; it also plays to our idealistic belief that everybody — no matter how bad their behavior — yearns for an opportunity to become heroic in the eyes of people not familiar with their past deeds. A chance at redemption, and generous self-sacrifice.
Nor does it, in director Antoine Fuqua’s muscular remake of 1960’s American adaptation of Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. With Denzel Washington top-lining a cast of scene-stealers every bit as engaging as the characters they play, and some narrative tweaks that make their shot at moral salvation virtually impossible — or is it? — this new Magnificent Seven delivers on the promise of the adjective in its title.
That said — and acknowledging the narrative adjustments made by scripters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, in keeping with 21st century sensibilities — all concerned should be ashamed of themselves, for failing to better acknowledge the core story concept by Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni. Pizzolatto and Wenk didn’t concoct this concept out of thin air, and it’s annoying to see them claim sole screen credit during the opening titles, as if the entire inspiration were theirs, and theirs alone.
(But I digress...)
The story begins in the tiny post-Civil War community of Rose Creek — a truly stunning set built by production designer Derek Hill and his crew — where the townsfolk have been invaded by ruthless carpetbagger Bartholomew Brogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who has established a destructive gold-mining operation only a few hundred yards from the local church.
Brogue and his hired thugs have made life unbearable, but that isn’t sufficient; he has decided to destroy the community in order to expand his mining efforts ... and he couldn’t care less that this means driving hard-working farmers off their properties. In a prologue that sets new standards for heinous behavior, Brogue and his men hijack a town meeting and make their point brutally clear.
Do we loathe Brogue, in the space of a few swift minutes? Oh my, yes; rarely will you find a villain played with such callous élan. Sarsgaard is coldly, chillingly vile: a truly memorable performance.