The Magnificent Seven does a lot of things right in terms of delivering wild west-style fun. It’s beautifully shot, has a charismatic cast, and sprinkles just enough humor in and around the gunfights to keep things balanced.
That said, it could have been even better. Casting issues keep it from approaching the immortal heights reached by its namesake film.
Is it entertaining? Absolutely. Does it earn a place among the genre’s greats, or even among the best of some more recent western yarns? Not quite.
What’s it about
In the broadest of strokes, The Magnificent Seven‘s film story resembles the story from the classic 1960 Yul Brenner-Eli Wallach tale, and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai before it. A frontier town terrorized by a robber baron and his army seek the help of hired fighters for their salvation.
This time, it’s a mining town that needs saving, and its strong-willed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, Hardcore Henry) who leaves town in search of men brave enough to help them.
Emma first finds bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who for reasons of his own joins the cause. Chisolm then recruits gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), knife man Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Commanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), offering them the town’s reward for their help in facing what in effect is a suicide mission.
Chisolm’s band then undertakes preparing the town’s inhabitants to fight for what’s theirs. They have just days to get them ready, as their tormentor, the ruthless Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), learns of the town’s defiance and marshals all the gunfighters his wealth can buy in order to put down their rebellion.
Seven men against an army. Brave souls standing up for the weak in the face of tyranny. Warriors looking death in the eye with steely, squinty-eyed calm as it thunders down upon them.
Is there a more classic recipe for cinematic glory?
Fuqua knows badass
The Magnificent Seven is both director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington’s first foray into westerns. But it’s certainly not Fuqua’s first time around when it comes to delivering big-screen badassery.
The man knows how to sell characters who are people you just don’t mess with. That vision, that understanding of what makes a hero or a villain a ‘cool customer’ informs Fuqua’s vision of this film more than anything else. If you buy into what makes each of Chisolm’s men the right men for this job in this time and place, then the film works.
Not all of them, however, are the easiest sell. For as good as Washington, Hawke, and Sarsgaard are in their respective roles, Chris Pratt never really looks or sounds like he’s doing anything more than playing “Cowboys and Indians.” Tasked with being the silver-tongued, irreverent rogue of the group, Pratt’s line reads come off as leaden and off-key, like he’s trying too hard.
It’s not his fault, entirely. Contemporary “cool”, which Pratt has a sure handle on, doesn’t always translate to the Old West. Just ask Will Smith and Sharon Stone, whose own forays into the genre were hampered in part by the fact that they simply could not sound like they were products of that time and place.
Great stunts, cinematography, music
Of course, the great westerns of old also were memorable for their location photography and action scenes. In those areas, Fuqua demonstrates his love and knowledge of the genre with what he packs into The Magnificent Seven.
Cinematographer Mauro Fiore (The Equalizer) and production designer Derek Hill (Olympus Has Fallen) help Fuqua deliver a western worthy of comparison to the great “spaghetti westerns” of the past in terms of visuals. The effort at authenticity is everywhere in the production, and it pays off in terms of entertainment value.
Similarly, the thrilling action and special effects are of the “old school” variety, as well they should be. A Magnificent Seven remake filled with green screen and computer effects would be an insult — thankfully, Fuqua chose to go the more traditional route.
And what great western doesn’t have an iconic score? This Magnificent Seven benefits from the last work of the late, great composer James Horner, who died in 2015. Listen closely, and you’ll hear instrumentation and motifs Horner made distinctive in his scores for Legends of the Fall, The Mask of Zorro, and even Avatar. If you know Horner’s style, its unmistakable here, and it’s fun to enjoy it one last time.
Fans of the genre and of the cast should flock to theaters this weekend to see The Magnificent Seven. While it has its flaws, certainly, it’s still tremendously entertaining.
Will it make you forget Brenner, McQueen, Wallach, Coburn, and Bronson? Not a chance, but that’s never Fuqua’s intent.
Consider this instead the director’s ode to the genre and the themes that made the original unforgettable. That way, you most likely won’t be disappointed.
The Magnificent Seven
Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer and Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Running Time: 132 minutes
Rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.