Antoine Fuqua’s remake of John Sturges 1960 film of the same name – itself inspired from Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai – boasts of some well done action set pieces but is finally undone by a lazy, predictable screenplay. The final film, to put it simply, is not so magnificent after all.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is proved yet again with the latest version of Kurosawa’s all time great 1954 Samurai film. While the earlier 1960 Hollywood version still got it right on several fronts and made for an extremely engaging and enjoyable film, this version doesn’t quite gel. A surprisingly convenient screenplay with few ups and downs, coupled with some highly superficial characterizations and little human connect, pretty much make it a film all about the final fight and little else. Leave alone the earlier American version, the best Westerns have always been character driven with complex heroes even if they too led to the inevitable final gunfight. Take High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956) or Unforgiven (1992) to name a few. These films made for rich, multi-layered and well-plotted dramas amidst the action, a factor fatally lacking in Fuqua’s film.
Fuqua assembles a politically correct cast of various ethnicities to make up his motley group that the villagers of Rose Creek hire to save their land from gold miner Batholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). So, we have the black man leading the pack (Denzil Washington), the Mexican (Manual Garcia-Rulfo), the native Red Indian (Martin Sensmeier) and the Oriental (Byung-hun Lee) amongst the ensemble, along with Ethan Hawke, Chris Platt and Vincent D’Onofrio. It’s a strong enough cast but as mentioned, they are let down by some indifferent writing. The assembly of the group happens much too easily with Sensmeier being taken in without his skills even being tested. The few ups and downs the film works with can be seen coming a mile away as with Hawke’s character. The characterizations are but on the surface with a distinct lack of chemistry amidst the group thus making for performances that are adequate enough but lacking that extra spark. Sarsgaard makes for a cardboard if admittedly despicable villain, which weakens the film further.
The biggest failing of the film, however, is its lack of human drama. And not just the group, we don’t really connect with the villagers, who stand to lose all they have, either. Hence, we just don’t feel that bit of elation for every victory or that poignancy of every loss. Just about the only sequence that has some depth to it is the night before when we get some introspective moments with the characters and a sense of apprehension towards the fight to the finish that would take place at dawn.
Technically though, the film is fine. The film is mounted nicely, looks polished enough and the action sequences are well choreographed. I would still vote for the fight in Kurosawa’s classic, though. Especially the way natural elements like the rain was used to brilliant effect in the climactic combat and integrated into the main drama of the film.
All in all, the film is watchable enough but that’s about it. My advice would be to stick to the earlier tellings of the story. The are far more deserving of your time and attention.
English, Western, Color