I’m always a little wary of “reboots.” I’m especially skeptical of ones that think they’ll improve on a film that essentially captured lightning in a bottle.
So it was that “The Magnificent Seven” trailer popped up in my YouTube stream before some song started. Normally I bail on trailers because I’m not going to sit through a two-minute trailer for a 3-4-minute song. But I was curious, especially with a black face peering out from under a black hat.
Oy! Political correctness!
But then I recognized the face — Denzel. Okay, this might be at least worth two-minutes of my time. In my book Denzel Washington is almost always gold in an action movie. Even his “little” films like “Out of Time” (with the delectable Eva Mendes) are enjoyable. I’ll forgive him for propaganda like “Philadelphia,” “Malcolm X,” “The Hurricane.”
This however brings up an interesting debate that I’ve been having with myself. What about anachronistic casting? What about seemingly politically correct casting? It’s not that there were no black cowboys or gunslingers. There some cowboys but I doubt the number of black gunslingers was ever very high.
A British series “Merlin” featured a black actress in a key role, while others were extras in Camelot and the villages. The series is based in Authurian England — a time when there would have been no black people whatsoever. Also from England, recently the “Bastard Executioner,” taking place during the reign of Edward II (late 13th and early 14th century), featured a black actor in a key role. He was explained as a “Moor” that had somehow washed up in Medieval England. Of course he was exceedingly wise. The same ground was plowed in Kevin Costner’s 1991 Robin Hood tale, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” There, Morgan Freeman was Azeem, a Moor that had somehow made his way to England (Robin Hood also takes place in Medieval England — usually considered the reign of John [early 13th century] or Edward III [mid-to-late 14th century]). During all of these times a Moor running around the English countryside would have been considered an unusual thing.
Yet all these actors certainly acquitted themselves well. Did the Moors need to be Moors?
Is being historically correct on historical vehicles that important? Or should we be raceless? It’s a question I’m still not completely sure of the answer.
Would Denzel Washington be plausible as, say, Edward I? Shakespeare’s Henry V? George Washington? Robert E. Lee? I think he has the acting power to pull these roles off. Larry Fishburne could do Lee but I seriously doubt he would ever attempt such a challenge nor would hyper-PC Hollywood let him try it.
Could the inestimable Cate Blanchett try a male role of such caliber? She’s an amazing actress and has formidable screen presence but there probably is a limit.
Are historical roles in need of a “look”? Casting the big, blonde Australian Chris Hemsworth as the slight Billy the Kid might be a step too far. No matter how good he is, can Tim Roth be an Aztec king or could Gary Oldman be Wilt Chamberlain?
But back to Denzel Washington and “The Magnificent Seven.” The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, a capable action director. Backing Denzel is Chris Pratt — another guy named Chris that does action (e.g. Pine, Evans) — Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, etc. The trailer looked like there might be a few too many explosions (not Michael Bay-level, mind you) for what is supposed to be a “shoot’em up.” It also had that “open” modern western look where the town and environs are highly isolated. There was a feeling that it lacked the “humanity” of the original (the Yul Brynner version, not the original original by Kurosawa). Who has Robert Vaughn’s role as the dying gunslinger looking for redemption? Looking at the cast lists from both movies, the character names are all different so maybe there’s nothing to compare.
For a little comparison — the 1960 version had Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach. That’s a lot of industrial-grade testosterone.
The plot seems to be white male businessman controls a town rather than banditos raiding a small, defenseless village. Yeah, bad businessman — Oy, can Hollywood come up with anything new?
This reboot does seem to bow before the PC gods by laying out, besides Denzel, an Indian (Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest) and an Asian (Byun-hun Lee) yet, ironically/inexplicably, no Hispanic.
A bit bothersome with the trailer was the music.
Yes, the music.
“The Magnificent Seven” is famous for its Elmer Bernstein theme – hummable by any boy born in the 1960s. The only music in the trailer is “House of the Rising Sun,” by the Animals. Could this movie actually not use one the most recognizable movie themes in history?
I sat through the “Miami Vice” movie waiting for the legendary theme to spring forward and still can’t believe it wasn’t in there. It was a friggin’ Michael Mann movie, too! How could it not be there?
Or they might turn the theme into some kind of rap version or mangle it as was done with the “Mission:Impossible” theme, another legendary musical piece. I don’t know which would be worse.
Why can’t they just leave well enough alone?