It’s called “magnificent,” but there are other words I’d use to describe this movie. “Shallow.” “Repetitive.” “Pointless.” But I’d also use “stylish,” “bad-ass,” and “impressive.” Like many of today’s blockbusters, Antoine Fuqua’s remake of “The Magnificent Seven” is far from greatness of the original, but what we get just might entertain us yet.
The film begins with a superb introduction, in 1879 Rose Creek. Rose Creek is just like any other “Western” town you’ve seen: Filled with wood-shingled buildings, it’s got dirt roads, a saloon (complete with piano), and a church that doubles as a town forum. Industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) strolls into this church, and by the cut of his expensive suit and the sneer on his face, you know he’s the bad guy. When he declares that Rose Creek has been seized and is now his property, townsperson Matthew Cullen incites a small riot. Frightening the town into submission, Bogue shoots Cullen and others dead. Infuriated, Cullen’s wife, Emma (Haley Bennett), enlists the help of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Mrs. Cullen is determined to take back her town.
And I suppose you can kind of see where this is going. After Chisolm, Emma recruits six other men: Joshua Faraday, the cocksure gambler (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux, the haunted Confederate veteran (Ethan Hawke), Billy Rocks, an Asian knife-thrower (Byung Hun Lee), Jack Horne, the brutish tracker (Vincent D’Onofrio), Vasquez, the Mexican (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo ) and Red Harvest, an exiled Comanche (Martin Sensmeier).
I wish I could give you a better description of each member of the “Seven”, but that’s really all we’re given. Like most Westerns, the characters of “The Magnificent Seven” are archetypes. They’re sharp-shootin’, wise-crackin’, whiskey-drinkin’ bad-asses, but they don’t have much depth because they represent only the ideal of a character, not a full-fledged person. One of them’s the arrogant rogue. Or the knife-throwing Asian. Or the hairy thug. And even then, when the shootout between the Seven and Bogue’s goons begins, any member of the Seven is really different in name only. They’re all proficient in guns and they never miss their targets; again, not much depth.
But that doesn’t mean the action isn’t damn cool. Even when the cuts come as quick as the bullets fired, there’s some kind of satisfaction in seeing crooks thrown out of saloon windows or being blown up by dynamite or fallen at long distances from an arrow shot. Fuqua captures our attention with a kind of kinetic grace, and his rich, warm palette lends itself well to the Western aesthetic. As much as it is a requisite for a Western film, I enjoyed seeing the silhouettes of our heroes on horseback against a Coloradan backdrop. Very rich imagery.
This isn’t a revelatory film. Though it tries to, it doesn’t capture the message of the triumph of the human spirit, nor does it give any actor a shot at an Oscar (though the lovely Bennett is quite convincing as the vengeful widow). But you probably didn’t come for that. You came to be entertained, and this is the strength of “The Magnificent 7”, however familiar.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. Starring: Denzel Washington,Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, and Peter Sarsgaard.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and Columbia Pictures, 2016.