Who says the Western is dead? Granted, recent sagebrush epics Diablo, Jane Got a Gun and Forsaken bit the dust, but The Revenant made wagonloads of money and won three Oscars. So don’t mourn the noble American genre just yet—especially when director Antoine Fuqua, known for the edgy cop dramas Training Day and Brooklyn’s Finest, delivers a lean, mean and timely take on the 1960 classic The Magnificent Seven.
Like the original—and Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai, on which it’s based—the new Magnificent Seven revolves around a frontier town whose citizens, brutalized by a psychotic robber baron (Peter Sarsgaard), buy the protection of a ragtag band of gunslingers, played in this outing by heavy hitters including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Lee Byung-hun. “The best Westerns evolve from wherever we are as a country,” Fuqua says. “Right now, whether it’s terrorists, internet bullying or Wall Street bankers, we’re at a place where people take away the freedoms of others. Something terrible happens in London, Paris or Orlando, and we all wish we could help each other and do something. The movie’s diverse cast makes a statement: It takes all races coming together to fight tyranny. It’s important that Denzel is the lead alongside a Native American, a Mexican and an Asian fighting for a town that is basically all white.”
Something terrible happens in London, Paris or Orlando, and we all wish we could help each other and do something.
Fuqua’s love of the genre goes way back. Hawke, who also starred in Training Day, observes that “remaking this movie with Antoine was a perfect fit because of his great eye and his childhood of obsessively watching Westerns and Japanese cinema.” But the connection runs a lot deeper than swords and six-shooters.
“As a poor kid growing up in Pittsburgh, when a Western came on TV, my grandmother would make me something to eat so I could watch sitting right next to her,” Fuqua says. “That was her way of keeping me off the street. Seeing the 1960 Magnificent Seven was a profound experience because of moments like when Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen’s characters defy the others, who refuse to bury a dead Indian in the cemetery. They were fighting for the oppressed. They were like giants to me, and I wanted to be one of them. In my experience, I’ve seen the guys who run the neighborhoods and take what they want. I’ve gone to the funerals, seen the moms cry. When anyone got bullied in school, I was quick to jump in. Part of that came from loving guys like Brynner, McQueen, and John Wayne, watching TV with my grandmother.”
With The Magnificent Seven, Fuqua has given that love a massive, mud-spattered canvas and peopled it with an unstoppable cast. “My first instinct was that Denzel would be amazing as a cowboy,” Fuqua says, adding, “because he’s a great actor, not because of color. But Denzel as a black man and a cowboy—that’s an event. The movie stands on its own, and the theme resonates: people uniting to fight against tyranny. That’s what Westerns can do.”