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magnificent-7

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, veteran actor Robert Vaughn and one of the stars of the “original” The Magnificent Seven explained that the 1960 John Sturges classic was shot without a completed script. Each night, the stars (Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Horst Buchholz, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Vaughn) would get pages for the next day’s filming. Of course, that’s not to say the cast didn’t know what they were doing.

Based on The Seven Samurai directed by acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in 1954, The Magnificent Seven (old and new) is the story of a group of seven mismatched and dysfunctional gunfighters who band together to help an oppressed village fight back against thugs.

In this latest incarnation, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is a bounty hunter hired by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) – a farmer’s widow whose husband, Matthew (Matt Bomer) is unceremoniously murdered in the middle of their small town as he tried to stand up to the wealthy bully, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Saarsgard). The local sheriff, deep in Bogue’s pocket, stands by and allows Bogue to terrorise the townsfolk. At the mention of Bogue’s name (and believe me, if this was a drinking game every time “Bogue” is mentioned, you’d be properly drunk by the end of the movie), Chisolm accepts the job offer and proceeds to recruit some helpers.Much of the first half of the film follows Chisolm as he rounds up Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) – a gambler who never misses a trick, sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his assassin off-sider, Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a bearskin-wearing tracker named Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and finally a Native American outcast warrior, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Each man has his own mysterious past that is slowly unravelled as the group prepare to face off against the violent Bogue and his private army.

The pace is slow to begin with, eventually building up to the big fight. As you would expect from a good western, there is lots of gun-slinging and a lot of breakaway furniture as saloon doors are flung open and bad guys thrown around. Remembering that cowboys only packed six-shooters in those days, it is nice to see bullets are used (relatively) sparingly and our protagonists rely on their brains rather than simple firepower.

In what turned out to be award-winning composer James Horner’s final score (he died in a plane crash in 2015), his rendition of Elmer Bernstein’s famous theme is just as magnificent. Director Antoine Fuqua delivers a beautiful piece of cinema that is good fun but leaves no doubt that this is a Denzel Washington starrer with a very talented supporting cast. Haley Bennett holds her own amongst this male-dominated cast.

The Magnificent Seven (2016) is now showing across Australia.

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