Arts, Movies

‘The Magnificent Seven’ Aptly Pays Homage to Westerns in Self-Aware Fashion


The story of seven Wild West heroes joining together to defend innocent townspeople from evil thieves has been told before. That doesn’t just refer to the legendary 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, of which this new one is a remake, or even Seven Samurai, the Japanese original, but to the long tradition of Wild West films. The Magnificent Seven is full of all the classic Western tropes you could imagine: the pistol-twirling gunslinger, the silhouetted horseback rider, the tense duel in the middle of the street. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) brings in aspects from many of the most iconic Western films to create an action-filled movie that should satisfy any fan of the genre.

Instead of the band of thieves from the original film, the main villain in The Magnificent Seven is Bartholomew Bogue, an industrialist hoping to turn the small town of Rose Creek into part of his mining empire. Played by Peter Sarsgaard, Bogue is a church-burning, goateed killer who equates capitalism with God in his opening scene. This generic ‘evil industrialist’ idea essentially remains his motivation throughout as he terrifies the townspeople, killing indiscriminately and trying to force the townsfolk to sell their land for cheap. While the town is in distress, bounty hunter Sam Chisholm, played by Denzel Washington, rides into town to hunt down a wanted murderer. He is quickly dragged into the fight to save Rose Creek by Emma Cullen, the widow of one of Bogue’s victims. After agreeing to defend the town, Chisholm gathers together six disparate men to fight with him. From here the plot moves quickly toward the inevitable confrontation between Bogue and the Seven.

Washington delivers a predictably compelling lead performance, playing his character with the confident righteousness of the best Western heroes. Chris Pratt, one of the seven, plays exactly the type of character he’s played in all of his biggest blockbuster movies—a wisecracking, charming tough guy. It’s a character he plays well, making some unexpected emotional moments in the film’s second half land convincingly. The other five heroes, played by Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier, are relegated to slightly less active roles, but all do serviceable jobs, particularly D’Onofrio, whose high-voiced, religious mountain-man character was strangely fascinating.

As the antagonist, Sarsgaard delivers a fine performance, although he is only in a limited number of scenes. His character lacks any serious depth, as do many of the other minor parts, but he still manages to play the villainous role well. Haley Bennett, who plays Cullen, delivers one of the best performances of the film, her grief and anger providing an authentic motivation for the violence of the final battle.

Including the explosion-and-gunfire-filled ending, the film is full of action scenes. Almost all of the characters are introduced through some violent escapade that ends in a shootout or killing of some sort. Near-constant gunfire characterizes many scenes as the film stacks up a considerable body count. For the most part, The Magnificent Seven seems self-aware of its overt violence and action set pieces.

Many of the aspects of the plot, such as Bogue’s villainous greed or Washington’s quick-draw revolver skills, toe the line of cliché, but, through steady directing and acting, the film manages to remain an homage to these Western tropes without fully falling into kitsch. Fuqua directs the action well, maintaining the tension before each gunfight and the momentum during the chaos. Despite this, there is still a numbing effect near the end of the film as gunshot after gunshot after gunshot follow each other.

The script, co-written by Nic Pizzolatto of True Detective, serves as a vehicle for action set pieces, while avoiding the bad-dialogue pitfalls of many action-based films. Though many of the characters lack any larger emotional journey or deep-seated motivation, there is little reason to expect that kind of story in The Magnificent Seven. The movie delivers the expected fighting and excitement with likeable heroes who carry the story through to its bloody conclusion.  

The Magnificent Seven will inevitably remain in the shadow of its predecessors, but it stands as a solidly entertaining Western for today. Fuqua directs each action sequence well and strong performances carry the film throughout. While it doesn’t outshine the original or reach any heights beyond the expected blockbuster action film, it remains an entertaining and enjoyable movie—a worthy entry into the Wild West tradition.

Featured Image By Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

September 25, 2016