‘The Magnificent Seven’ is a solid Western that doesn’t quite live up to its forebears
PHOTO BY SONY PICTURES
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre, Park, Galaxy
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $ Matinee
What's it worth?: $ Matinee
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) directs this remake written by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto, based on the Japanese classic Seven Samurai (1954), a film that was also remade in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven by director John Sturges. Seven mercenaries—bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier)—join forces to save the town of Rose Creek from ruthless industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). As the deadly showdown approaches, the seven hired guns discover they’re fighting for more than money. (132 min.)
Glen: As an adolescent, the 1960 Magnificent Seven was one of my favorite Westerns, up there with The Wild Bunch and The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly. In college I discovered Seven Samurai, and my world opened to Yojimbo and Rashomon. Hence, my expectations were high for this new take on the classic tale of mercenaries with honor. I wish I could say my expectations were fulfilled, but this Magnificent Seven falls short of magnificence. Sure, it was entertaining and had a great cast, but in the wake of condemnations about Hollywood’s lack of minority representation, its diverse cast felt a little bit like a desperate attempt at inclusion. Likewise, the nuanced moral balance of its source material is cast aside for a clear delineation of good (the seven gunmen) and evil (the ruthless industrialist). A bit more moral ambiguity would have made for a more interesting plot. That said, there are some balletic gun battles, engaging humor mainly thanks to Pratt’s Josh Faraday, and committed performances, especially D’Onofrio’s. It’s also shot with the kind of cinematic grandeur one expects of a Western, so it’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen. It’s no Unforgiven, and it’s not as entertaining as Django Unchained, but I’d watch it again, and that’s saying a lot.
Anna: The reboot certainly has some big shoes to fill, and while it may not live up to its predecessors, it still has enough action, adventure, humor, and heart to stand on its own. Pratt does what he does best, playing the gambling scofflaw with a quick wit and even quicker gun draw. Chisolm’s motivation to help Emma clearly goes beyond the promised gold, though his outright hatred of Bogue isn’t explained until the final showdown. The mash-up of men who agree to try to take down Bogue and his army are all deeply flawed but moral individuals, and they all have big hearts that seek justice, especially for bullies like Bogue. I loved D’Onofrio as Jack Horne, a bear of a man whose reputation as a scalper precedes him. Under that rough exterior is a man willing to die for what he thinks is right, a soft and nuanced character whose brute protects a huge heart. There’s also a complicated character in Goodnight, who’s shell shocked from war and fears that if he reverts back to killing, he won’t be able to stop evil from overtaking him. The great thing about this movie is that it really showcases its characters and humanizes what could have been just a shoot-’em-up modern Western.
Glen: After opening with Rose Creek and its oppressive villain, the film moves through introductions of the various seven gunmen. It’s fun to get to know these anti-heroes who’ve chosen to live outside the law. In the post-Civil War setting, Chisolm—a black bounty hunter—is met with distrust. Faraday is a braggadocio and maybe a card cheat. Vasquez is simply a bandit, and knife-wielding Rocks is only along for the ride since Robicheaux agreed. He is indeed an interesting character. In the first gun battle, he seems to react with fear even though he’s a proven killer and exceptional marksman. Near silent Red Harvest is a warrior without a tribe or a war. Horne is perhaps the most moral of the lot, though as you mentioned, he’s made a living selling Indian scalps. This motley crew learns to respect one another, but if they’re to save the town, they must inspire the townspeople to save themselves. As in Seven Samurai, the “heroes” of this rebooted Magnificent Seven earn a pyrrhic victory. Perhaps it would have been better if Rose Creek citizens had simply packed up and left the town to Bogue, but that wouldn’t have made much of a movie. Honor, right versus wrong, and justice—those are the three legs of the Western. Rank this new Magnificent Seven up there with Hang ’Em High or Silverado. If you like Westerns, you could do worse; if you love Westerns, don’t miss this on the big screen.
Anna: The seven heroes ride into town a week before Bogue will be able to return from Sacramento with an army. After killing off all of his men except the sheriff, whom they send off to inform Bogue, they start training the townsfolk in the hopes that they will be able to overpower whatever forces Bogue brings with him. Unfortunately, the farmers are not terribly skilled as marksmen, nor good with a knife in hand-to-hand combat. This allows for a bit of comedy during the heavy time, and puts no doubt that the fate of the town lies of the shoulders of the seven strangers Emma brought back. The townspeople do however have the wherewithal to fight, and where their skill is weak their hearts are strong. Sarsgaard’s Bogue is smarmy and calloused, a perfect villain for a Western and someone you instantly hate. He also has no sense of honor, only ego, and doesn’t rise above fighting dirty. I’m not someone who always says yes to a Western, but The Magnificent Seven was a good time, and I’d watch it again. It’s a lot of fun, and seeing it on the big screen is totally worth it if the genre or storyline interests you.
Split Screen is written by Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.