The Magnificent Seven (2016)

It’s been a good year so far for Westerns.  First, there was Hell or Highwater which was a brilliant callback to the classic masterpieces of the genre.  My full review can be found here:  Antoine Fuqoa’s The Magnificent Seven doesn’t quite reach the heights of that film, but it is a perfect tribute to the rousing, adventurous Westerns of old.
We follow Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) as he gathers a group of gun men to protect the small town of Rose Creek at the behest of townswoman Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett).  Chisolm brings together Faraday the Gambler (Chris Pratt), wild man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife man Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) to face off against slimy land baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his army of hired guns.
The Magnificent Seven’s plot doesn’t hold many surprises or twists.  It pretty much hits the ground running, revealing our villain, forming the Seven, and then the shooting ensues.  It’s well-trodden territory, but even the most familiar story can be entertaining if it’s told well.
And it is told very well.
Fuqoa not only stages amazing action sequences, but he also shoots them beautifully.  Gunfights are fast and gritty, yet we see everything.  There is no shaky cam (Of course not, Western’s never had them) and each action sequence attempts to top the one before. One warning:  The film pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating, with some shocking, violent deaths.
The fields of Rose Creek and its surrounding valleys are shot with a loving touch, reminiscent of many of the same vistas from classic Westerns.  Fuqua and the filmmakers bring a complete respect for the iconic films from before.  This respect is evident in the soundtrack, one of the last that from the iconic James Horner.  The iconic original theme is sprinkled throughout the film, following Chisolm as he forms the Seven.  It’s beautifully done and will bring a smile to any fan of the original.
At this point, saying Denzel Washington is a great actor is like saying the sky is blue.  He provides the center of the film, bringing the proper gravitas to the role.  Washington’s Chisolm seems to walk right out of the old Westerns:  A lone hero in black who stands for what is right no matter the odds.  And like the “Man with No Name,” his past is given the right amount of mystery.
Ethan Hawke is the other performance of note among the “Seven,” playing Goodnight with a surprising ferocity.  He has the most fleshed out back story besides Chisolm, bearing the mental scars of a violent past.  It’s especially fun to see Washington and Hawke reunite for a mini Training Day reunion.
This is not to say the rest of our heroes are lackluster.  Chris Pratt is his usual charming self as Faraday, the literal wild card who seems to simply be there for the ride.  The escalating danger only draws a smile or wink.  D’Onofrio is delightfully weird as Horne, giving him a high-pitched voice that clashes with his violent nature.  Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is a purely physical presence that is a walking action sequence while Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez is a great verbal sparring partner for Faraday.  The one “weak point” of the Seven is Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest.  He’s not bad in the role, he just doesn’t have a whole lot to do.  He rarely speaks and his role is pretty similar to Lee’s.
Peter Sarsgaard seems to have a great time being the “big bad.”  Bogue slithers in his suit and is the personification of greed gone wild.  But he is also the epitome of the film’s flaws.
The Magnificent Seven has elements that are good, but could have been great.  Bogue is an excellent antagonist, but he barely interacts with the heroes.  It would have been great to see more of him, messing with the Seven or making outlandish speeches to terrified townspeople.  And Haley Bennett does some excellent work as Emma, an intensely emotional part.  But she is the only one of the townspeople who leaves any kind of mark and is also underused.  These men are laying down their lives for this town…but we barely know anything about its citizens.
A special note should be made about the make-up of our team of heroes.  More than half of the Seven are minority actors.  The whole team is made up of misfits who exist on the fringe of society, with the possible exception of lawman Chisholm…an African American.  While the film does call attention to this, I love how it eventually fades into the background.  These men are heroes, no matter their race.  It’s refreshing to see a cast like this when the issue of diversity is on everyone’s mind.
And it’s a pretty fun Western!
Score: 8 out of 10