The Western has always been a bit of a weird genre to contend with, and no film better exemplifies that than the original The Magnificent Seven. An ensemble film that manages to skirt the edges of being a classic without having the technical or acting skill to really get there. Westerns were never as popular as people today seem to think so it’s weird that this is the one movie people still hold a torch for. Perhaps it is because it’s based on the Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai. Perhaps it’s because it cast legends like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, and Robert Vaughn. Whatever the case, if it’s remembered fondly enough, we’re bound to get a remake.
The new Magnificent Seven is smart enough not to stray to far from the plot of the original — a town is at the mercy of a large threatening group, who this time is a business man and his many henchmen who are destroying the land, and who seek out skilled fighters to protect them. I’m tempted to say that Matt Bomer is wasted here as he is literally laid to waste by said henchmen in the first five minutes, but I’m more relieved we didn’t kill the wife as a way of motivating male character growth like most movies do. His wife Emma goes out to recruit the men, seven in all, to protect the town and rid them of the goons for good so that the town can finally know peace.
The action is simply amazing. Director Antoine Fuqua has had an eye for fluidity and action since Training Day but does it ever shine in this production. The third act town shootout is what people bought tickets for and with sharp humor, drama, and suspense all rolled up into some forty minutes of film glory. The path there is a little origin-story-centric but ultimately, it pays off in the end. The cinematography is nothing new or innovative, but it’s looks like a modern Western should and the explosions would likely get a passing grade from Michael Bay.
Denzel Washington as Sam Chislom is excellent in this role, the action star he has always been finally back on the big screen. Chris Pratt has proven he can still do no wrong as the quirky quick-draw Joshua Faraday. Vincent D’Onofrio is probably the strangest addition to the cast, as crazy mountain Jack Horne, acting as the sort of spiritual member of the group because apparently every ensemble piece needs one. I know some people rolled their eyes at the inclusion of an Asian, Latino, African American, and Native American member of the team, and yet considering that the West is no where near as white as Hollywood always made it out to be, I think it’s about damn time. Peter Sarsgaard is one hell of a good villain as the mealy, slimy, but strangely threatening industrialist Bartholomew Bogue. Most people overlook how important it is to have the right kind of villain in order to make the ending the most satisfying, and it definitely works here.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that there are a lot of characters and most of them only get glimpses of bigger development and plot points. For example, Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux is haunted by his Confederate past, running away before the big fight only to return mid-battle but what exactly caused the break is never discussed. It’s brought up like a quirk and then totally overcome off-screen for the final battle. Additionally, a friendship develops between Vasquez and Faraday which goes from grudging to Legolas-and-Gimli-style one-up-manship in literally no time at all. Again, these are bad plot points but they’re not given enough time to really unfold and thus come off as rushed and trite.
The writing is strong overall, with witty dialogue and quick, tense situations that keep the plot from dragging on too long before the big finale. But the finale is the best part — choreographed to perfection, with every part of the ensemble showing off their skills, and for some, dying in excellent dramatic fashion. It’s the kind of movie that understands the place of the genre in the pop culture collective and manages to provide enough winks in the audience’s directions to remain relevant but also serious enough that it’ll likely remain a classic.
Ultimately, The Magnificent Seven is a fun little movie that works well as an end of summer flick that brings the action and some of the drama to the line-up in an otherwise pretty deadline up. It’ll be worth picking up the director’s cut just to see how much they cut to get it to a suitable run time.
A strong shoot-em-up film that's good fun but light on character development
The Magnificent Seven is a movie that's big on the funny quips and fast action, but it disappoints in its inability to develop its ensemble cast past the most superficial level keeps it from ascending to the ranks of greatness.