For a western released in 2016, The Magnificent Seven is remarkably old fashioned. While other modern westerns have painted their frontiers with a postmodern or revisionist brush, The Magnificent Seven is happy to be a throwback. In this film, piano players stop playing when mysterious men walk into saloons, shootouts are preceded by long, tense stares, and bad men are always, in the end, made to pay for their sins.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with taking an old school approach provided you nail the basics, and this film does just that. It's a mostly exciting romp, one where it's abundantly easy to cheer for the good guys and boo the baddies. The Magnificent Seven wants nothing more than to be a crowd-pleaser, and in its own uncomplicated, straightforward way, its aim rings true.
This Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake, and while plenty of details are different between it and the "original" American film from the '60s, the plot's broad strokes remain. An impoverished village under the tyrannical rule of an evil gang is forced to seek help from a group of disparate gunslingers to reclaim their land and their lives. In this modern version, the bad guys are led by an evil industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue (played with mustache-twirling subtlety by Peter Sarsgaard), and their target is the town of Rose Creek. Bogue and his henchmen give the townsfolk a violent ultimatum in the film's opening: either give up their land for a pittance or have it taken from them forcibly.
These dastardly actions force Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to seek help, and she finds it in a bounty hunter named Chisholm, played by Denzel Washington. Chisholm is an archetypal Western hero; bitingly eloquent, absurdly skilled with a pistol, and saddled with a mysterious past. Washington plays him as reserved (which could easily be mistaken for bored), outside of a few crucial scenes where Washington unleashes the full power of his undeniable charisma and magnetism. It's not immediately clear why Chisholm would take on the low-paying, high-risk job that Cullen offers. But take it he does, and he sets about recruiting a small team to take on the army that Bogue possesses.
Chisholm's other six compadres are brought together quickly, and outside of their key weapon specialization, little effort is made to flesh them out. There's a wily Mexican outlaw named Vasquez, the ninja-like Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Native American warrior handy with a bow named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and the gruff powerhouse known as Jack Horne, played with an almost distracting old prospector-style voice by Vincent D'Onofrio. Outside of Washington's Chisholm, only two other members of The Magnificent Seven get any substantial character detail. One is Josh Faraday, a gambler and rogue played with cheeky charm by Chris Pratt, and the other is the wonderfully named Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a Confederate commander suffering from clear PTSD issues.
With such a diverse cast, the opportunity was there to delve into meatier issues, but The Magnificent Seven seems wholly uninterested in politics and race (outside of a few sideways glances by bit characters at the African American Chisholm). Director Antoine Fuqua's focus is solely on the plot and action, and he moves it along at a breezy enough pace that the film's two-hour-plus runtime never feels too onerous. Plenty of time is spent on showcasing how irredeemably awful Bogue and his cohorts are, and just enough moments are spent with each of the protagonists that the film's climax, when it finally comes, is peppered with moments of genuine tension.
It's about as family friendly as a revenge-themed Western can be.
Despite its huge body count, The Magnificent Seven is a relatively bloodless film, fitting in with the film's overarching old school western mentality. There are no gaping wounds or gory headshots--when folks get shot in this Magnificent Seven, they simply crumple to the ground with nary a bloody squib to be seen. It's neat, it's tidy, and it's about as family friendly as a revenge-themed western can be.
And that, really, is The Magnificent Seven at its core: safe. It's certainly fun and cheer-worthy as the honorable good guys stand against the deeds of evil men. And its dedication to the well-trodden path makes it enjoyable, but not necessarily memorable. The Magnificent Seven is a bubblegum western in the best way possible, and it's about time we had another one of those mosey into town.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Old-school Western tropes that are used well||We don't really get to know most of the Seven|
|Charming performances from Pratt and Hawke|
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