The Magnificent Seven at The Skyway

A Film and Theater Reviewoutdoor theater
By Justin Eagle Gauthier

On the final Friday of the Skyway Drive-in Theater’s 2016 season, my wife and I took a scenic drive up the Door County peninsula to watch a double feature of Sully and The Magnificent Seven. The Skyway Drive-in has been operating in relative obscurity for 66 years. As a bastion of old-school movie going experience, it stands apart from any other venue in the state, or the nation for that matter—it’s rated the #1 drive-in theater on Trip Advisor.

That October night, we watched Tom Hanks portray Sully with reserved ease and I thought this first film was engaging but nothing spectacular. After a short intermission, the classic adverts and some charming local commercials prefaced Antoine Fuqua’sThe Magnificent Seven. Fuqua has taken on the responsibility of interpreting legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s original masterwork, The Seven Samurai. Of course, Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven (2016) is a modern update of the classic western of the same name from 1960. In westernizing the samurai genre, director John Sturges struck a cultural chord at the time. As a remake of a reinterpretation, a kernel of Kurosawa’s original film still exists in the 2016 version, somewhere. Fuqua manages to emulate the films that came before, but is there substance in his interpretation?

Before I write about this, I have to talk about the cast. Denzel Washington does a great job of playing a damaged, lethal hero in the lead role of Chisolm. Co-star Chris Pratt does his best to fill the boots of Steve McQueen in the supporting role. Though this was smart casting in ways, Pratt seems too comfortable, almost resigned, in his role as the charming scoundrel. His turn as slick talking, gambler gunmanJosh Faraday, feels like an edgy carbon copy of his Guardians of the Galaxy character, Peter Quill. In short, Steve McQueen still rules.

Despite the attention to cultural detail and the strength of the cast,The Magnificent Seven falls short of expectation. The weakness is in the screenplay. Fuqua puts the story through its paces but doesn’t do enough to produce an experience. All of the pieces are there—great cinematography, nuanced performances, spectacular stunt work, and tough guy lines galore; yet, what’s missing is the signature style that Fuqua imprinted on Training Day. The Magnificent Seven therefore, comes to rest in the same groove that many remakes and reboots seem to settle into; worth a nostalgic viewing but not nearly as memorable as their predecessors.

The Skyway is still the Skyway, and that meant that the night was an experience to remember. Once you clip the tinny sounding speaker onto your driver-side window you feel the patina of the place (audio is also broadcast to your car radio if you prefer). From the original snack-shack concession stand; the inclusion of swing sets near the screen; the period specific adverts ahead of the movies, a trip to the Skyway should be a destination for residents of and visitors to Wisconsin alike.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier has been featured in several literary journals. He is currently enrolled in the LoRez MFA program in creative writing studying screenwriting at the Institute of American Indian Arts.