Review - 'The Magnificent Seven'
If this doesn't convince audiences that westerns can be cool, I don't know what will. The Magnificent Seven, while never subtle, is an exciting western romp with a good sense of humor, great characters and brutal action. More importantly, the film is also a worthy retelling of its highly-revered forebears.
After a lethal town take-over by slimy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), one of the survivors enlists Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) to purge their town of the villains. Chisholm, knowing the unspeakable odds, seeks out six more of the best in the west to fight by his side.
The Magnificent Seven, as almost everyone probably knows, is a remake of the original 1960's version also titled The Magnificent Seven. That film was based strongly off of Akira Kurosawa's legendary Seven Samurai. While this version doesn't reach the heights of either of those films, it's still a hugely satisfying cinematic experience. Director Antoine Fuqua and writers Nic Pizzolotto and Richard Wenk stay within arms-length of the original film, though a few things are definitely switched up, so if you're looking for a word-for-word remake, you're not going to find it here. The film runs for around two hours and fifteen minutes, and for me, the pacing seemed just fine and I never felt like the movie was overstaying its welcome. I attribute this to a straight-forward story, efficient and well-executed action, along with well-written characters who have real chemistry.
Speaking of characters; the filmmakers definitely took some liberties here. In my mind, this was a very smart decision. I'd say this is probably the most diverse big-budget film of the year, and it's a western, which is all the more surprising. I know it's just a movie, but I love seeing people of every ethnicity standing together against a common enemy. I feel like this is what audiences need to see; that we're all in this together.
Denzel Washington leads the pack as Sam Chisholm, and though I wouldn't have thought of it myself, I now can't think of a more appropriate leader for the seven. If Washington's Chisholm told me to jump of a cliff and that I'd be fine, I'd probably do it. Next we have Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday. From the trailers I didn't think he'd be anything more than a twangier Owen Grady. I was wrong. Chris Pratt delivers, and while I don't think his sharp-shootin', sweet-talkin', whiskey-drinkin' Josh Faraday is quite up there with his Starlord performance, he's definitely better here than he was in Jurassic World. Ethan Hawke surprises as the troubled and fascinating Goodnight Robicheaux. He plays a respected character with a dark past. Haley Bennett plays Emma Cullen, the woman that hires Chisholm. She displays a wide range of emotions here and ends up being a strong and more pivotal character than I had imagined. Rounding out the rest of the cast we have Peter Sarsgaard playing the detestable villain, Bogue. Vincent D'Onofrio portrays the eccentric and violent tracker, Jack Horne. Byung Hun-Lee carves it up as Billy Rocks, a knife-wielding assassin. Manual Garcia-Rulfo plays Vasquez, a sharpshooting Mexican outlaw and finally Martin Sensmeier lives up to the most awesome moniker I've heard all year; Red Harvest.
Apart from having firm direction and a great cast of characters, the film is also beautiful to look at. Antoine Fuqua chose to film The Magnificent Seven without any of those distracting filters that seem to be present in almost every big-budget movie these days. There are some sweeping wide-shots that really embrace the natural beauty of the country and don't feel altered in any way. I'm not saying there weren't any digital touch-ups here and there, the film just looks more down-to-earth and authentic. This is also, sadly, the last time we will get to hear a new James Horner score. The music is distinctively James Horner with a western spin, and it suits the film perfectly. I'll definitely be buying this score at some point in honor of his memory, and just because it's darn good music.
The action is also expertly directed and you can always see what's going on. I'm surprised this film got away with a PG-13 rating, as it really is relentlessly violent. Sure, the camera doesn't linger on anything bloody but you will see plenty of foreheads with noticeable bullet-holes in them, vicious stabbings, blood smears, Gatling gun kills, dynamite kills...you get the point. I will say there are times where the action is a bit excessive and becomes monotonous, but it didn't bother me all that much and it was always inventive and entertaining.
Another aspect of this film that I really admire is just how western it is. Everyone stands, walks and rides horses in that iconic western way; it's almost to the point of being cliche, almost, but not quite. You have characters sitting back with feet crossed on a table guzzling whiskey and playing poker, the classic twirl of the gun into the holster after every gunfight, dip-spitting bandits with hilarious nicknames, it's all there. There's even an amazingly tense stand-off that is applause-worthy because of just how old-fashioned and perfect it is.
There are some problems with the film though. I found that the way the team came together was a little too quick and easy. Chisholm doesn't take much more than a bag of coins to be swayed into doing what is guaranteed to be a life-threatening task. This doesn't bother me too much because there's another reason he takes the job. I had more trouble believing that the six others he recruited were as eager to lay down their lives for this cause, as they don't have nearly as much personal investment in the matter as Chisholm does. All of the members join the group without much fanfare at all, maybe they just didn't have anything better to do.
Another thing that irked me was some of the Bogues ill-advised decision-making. The order in which he dispatches his men or uses certain implements of destruction indicates that he is clearly not a smart strategist. That being said, I still thought Sarsgaard's menacing performance overcame all of the dumb decisions his character made and I found him to be an entirely hate-able villain in the end.
The Magnificent Seven is a triumphant return to the western genre that delivers in almost every department. The film looks great and has action that delivers, but what really holds it all together is the characters that bond so well on-screen and who you actually care about. I was consistently entertained and even moved at times by the film, it was worth the trip.