A remake of a remake does not instill confidence. Sure enough, this updated version of the 1960 original, itself a do-over of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (1954), is anything but magnificent.
We live in an age of excess. The bad guy in the 1960 iteration, Calvera (Eli Wallach), was a laughing bandito. The villain in the new production, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), is a psychopath, less malevolent than mentally ill. And because the rifles and pistols of the old version don’t generate the proper amount of firepower and writhing bodies for viewers in our modern age, the bad guys roll in a Gatling gun.
The heart of the problem is that this new version is all action and very light on character development. The 1960 version was character first, action second.
Denzel Washington is Sam Chisolm, the noble leader of the pack. He’s the strong, silent type, which is too bad because half of Denzel’s charm is his jaunty smile and melodic voice. Approached by the frazzled townspeople of Rose Creek, Chisolm (a bounty hunter) is asked to free the humble farmers from Bogue’s murderous grasp. He takes the job and assembles a task force.
When Yul Brynner took the job back in ’60, the members of his team each had a backstory that played out over the course of the movie and especially during the final shootout. The 2016 crew is not quite so nuanced, with the exception of Ethan Hawke’s character, who appears to have post-Civil War PTSD. The others are an Irish drunkard (talk about racial profiling!), a Native American wearing two quarts of war paint, a growling Mexican, a crazed mountain man and a silent knife thrower.
The pacing is too slow, the sets are straight out of “Gunsmoke” and the clichés (“Tell him he’s nuthin’ but a dirty, yellow-belly, sap-suckin’ coward”) never stop.