Note: This movie was featured in the first bonus episode of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. If you’re interested in hearing my first reaction right after seeing the movie, definitely go check it out!
For better or worse, we live in a world where sequels and reboots/remakes reign supreme over original content. Why create something new when you can create a newer, cooler version of something old? Perhaps that’s a bit of a cynical outlook on things, but fortunately this new Hollywood standard hasn’t been all bad, and director Antoine Fuqua’s 2016 remake of the 1960 Western classic, The Magnificent Seven proves that reboots can still be good fun – if not maybe a bit unnecessary.
In 1879, a man named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has taken control of the small town of Rose Creek, forcing the citizens to mine gold, demanding they forfeit their land, and paying off the corrupt local law enforcement to police the town. After he openly slaughters several locals who stand up to him and sets the only church aflame, newly-widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) seeks the help of Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who assembles a team of men (Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier) to help take control of the city and to seek vengeance on Bogue.
I unfortunately have to admit that, at the time of this writing, I have seen neither the original The Magnificent Seven film nor its inspiration, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, meaning that I walked into this movie with no previous story information or knowledge of what to expect aside from the fact that I knew seven guys were basically protecting a town from a bunch of bad guys. So I can’t make any quality comparisons between this new version and either of the originals, but thankfully the new film is a fun one. Gunfights are expertly choreographed and action-packed, but they rarely seem gratuitous, and the lack of Tarantino-esque gore makes them much more watchable. Because of how the villain is introduced at the start of the film, you see him as truly evil and deserving of the vengeance coming to him at the hands of these Seven, and even though he’s physically absent from most of the film; his absence is hardly noticed because it’s hard to shake the image of the slaughter of so many innocents.
Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisolm is absolutely the best part of this film. He’s sympathetic, honorable, and completely believable as a cowboy-type character in this time period. He’s also the most serious and grounded character throughout, which is a great contrast to Chris Pratt’s Joshua Faraday (more on that below). Another standout performance here comes from Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen. She carries all the good qualities of a damsel in distress – emotional without being over-the-top, sympathetic, etc. – but she’s also able to transcend that stereotype and have some true moments in the spotlight as she actively participates in the climactic gunfight sequence of the film, proving herself effective as not only a mourning widow but also as a highly capable woman of action capable of defending herself and others.
Now for Chris Pratt as Joshua Faraday. I love Chris Pratt. I think he’s funny, but I also think that he can be a highly capable dramatic actor when he’s given the chance. Aside from a few small moments here and there, though, he never truly rises above the “quippy Chris Pratt” default character. There are scenes where his lines feel oddly forced and unnecessary, largely during moments when he is supposed to be the comedic relief, but also in more dramatic moments that almost feel undeserved because he doesn’t have the proper character development to lead him to those scenes. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne suffers a similar fate; the first appearance of his character introduces him as a true man of the mountain, but despite his awesome tomahawk-throwing skills and visual comparison to a bear, he speaks with an unnecessarily effeminate voice, which wouldn’t really be a problem if there was more of a reason why he did so or if he wasn’t set up as a silly character with silly lines. While watching, I was reminded of Radegast the Brown’s appearance in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy – an unnecessary character who is goofier than he needs to be. It would be unfair for me to say that I didn’t enjoy some moments with Faraday or Horne, but it would be accurate to say that I was a bit disappointed with their roles in the film.
While I’m talking a bit of criticism, I want to quickly touch on some of the cinematography. Now, for the most part, this film is very well-shot and well-choreographed, but the high quality of the majority makes the minor things stand out even more. One scene in particular features Bogue (our villain) preparing an army to send to Rose Creek for battle, which is a fine scene until we cut back to Sam Chisolm simply standing there (or sitting on his horse; I don’t remember for sure), silhouetted against the night sky. Then it cuts back to the Bogue scene, and then back to Chisolm, who hasn’t moved or said a word of dialogue to justify why we’re seeing him. It’s a strange moment. The only other shot(s) that really bothers me took place just prior to the climactic fight in the latter 45 minutes of the movie. As Bogue’s men arrive in Rose Creek, we hear a ring of the church bell accompanied by a close-up of one of the Seven, then cut to black. Another ring, another close-up, then cut to black. It does this for most (if not all) of the Seven, and it is the only shot like this in the entire film. It feels egregiously out of place when compared to the rest of the film, but on the whole this is a pretty minor complaint.
Lastly, I have to briefly talk about the music. This is the third and final James Horner score released posthumously following his untimely death in 2015, and it was probably the aspect of the film that I was most anticipating going in. Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the original 1960 film is classic and known by pretty much everyone, so everyone was curious to hear what his approach would be. After watching the movie and listening to the score, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing here as memorable or instantly classic as Bernstein’s theme, but that doesn’t take away from it being fantastic. What’s great about Western film scores is that the burden of having to use electronic sounds is absent, so we hear a lot of natural, organic sounding music – lots of brass, woodwinds, strings, the typical stuff, and because it’s Horner, it’s very theme-based. That being said, Bernstein’s original theme actually does appear at the very end of the film, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s nice that something so classic was included as a throwback to the original, but on the other, it feels incredibly out of place since it isn’t heard anywhere else in the film. I would rather it have been sprinkled in bits and pieces throughout only to be finally heard in its entirety at the end OR not heard at all, left solely to Horner’s own original music. But that’s just my preference!
So there you have it. My opinions on this film are largely positive, and I don’t see that changing when I see the original movie and Seven Samurai – hopefully soon! Is it a fantastic movie, or even Magnificent? Not really, but it’s fun and Denzel’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. It may not live up to the expectations of the original, but it’s a perfectly fine film on its own and worth seeing in the theater.
MPAA: PG-13 – for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language, and suggestive material