by Steve Lancaster 9/30/16
This is the third installment of what has become a classic Japanese story, Seven Samurai (1954). The first was directed by Kurosawa and staring the very talented Toshiro Mifune changed the nature and scope of Japanese cinema. It was one of the highest grossing Japanese films of its time.
I grew up with the first American remake (1960), staring Yul Brynner and the fabulous score by Elmer Bernstein. I was prepared to not like the current remake, and that is easy to do as most remakes take the exact story and just add new actors. In the case of action movies, the change element is more action with the loss of plot development. However, I decided that Denzel Washington was enough of a reason to see what the director, Antoine Fuqua, would do.
I have to admit that I had some uneasiness as the cast is more diverse and, knowing Hollywood, I assumed more PC, with a Black, Indian, Mountain Man, Mexican, Yankee, Rebel and Asian. I assume that we all know the basic story line. I will spare the redundancy to just comment that if you know either of the previous movies you will not be surprised.
In the 1960 version, the villagers are outnumbered, outgunned, and seemingly unwilling to defend themselves. In this version, the villagers are also outgunned but not unwilling to fight back when given leadership. Our heroic seven give a crash course in small arms, tactics, and how to ambush the bad guys. One positive element is the addition of a woman, Emma Cullen, played by Haley Bennett as an almost eighth member of the group. She is the one who recruits Chisolm (Washington). And although there is no love story, she is a strong character who saves Chisolm’s life.
This movie stands in its own right and I think that Kurosawa would approve. The story of the strong defending the weak is one that Americans know and understand, and one I might add that every Marine would approve. When all the fighting, killing, and blowing things up is over. The three remaining ride out of town. There is an implicit understanding that although Chisolm and friends are welcome to stay, the villagers really desire them to leave. This is natural and normal — those who stand the wall defending civilization are always outside the social order.