The Magnificent Seven is back-to-the-basics Western fun

A review of the remake of the 1960 classic film, The Magnificent Seven

By Ryen Thomas

The Magnificent Seven rides high into theaters, bringing back the good old fashion fun of the classic western genre, but with a modern look and twist.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) remakes the 1960 western sensation, itself an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese epic Seven Samurai. While the 1930s had its fair share of westerns and introduced us to John Wayne, the genre truly took off after World War II, with a box office dominance much like that of comic book movies now. Both the classic western and the contemporary comic book movie share a couple of major themes: a society that’s been invaded by great evil, and citizens living in dark times craving larger than life heroes to save the day, (even if those heroes come from the fantasy land brought to us by Hollywood).

In the current incarnation of The Magnificent Seven, Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, who leads a ragtag group of seven men, all with mysterious or even questionable pasts, but a drive to make things right. In the original, Yul Brynner did a heck of job with the character of Sam, providing tons of bravado. Denzel reprises the role effortlessly, however he instantly crushes comparisons by owning the role with the quiet swagger of an old-timey movie star with a tweaked origin story that reflects the fact that he’s playing an African-American living during a time that wouldn’t have been awarded such leadership. Basically, he’s a black John Wayne. (I’m black, so I can say that.)

Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm

The arrival of Denzel’s character and its wonderfully diverse sets the remake apart from its predecessor. Enter the rest of the seven gunslingers with Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a charming fella who contrasts nicely with Chisolm’s stoicism, a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), an Asian Assassin (Byung-hun Lee), and a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier). Vincent D’Onofrio proves that the teddy bear type of man who can kill your ass and warm your heart at the same time. Ethan Hawke rounds out the seven as Goodnight Robicheaux, a man who’s hampered by a past he has trouble living up to.  

Though seven answer the call of heroism, the film gives us an unofficial, magnificent eighth member of the team, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) who desperately recruits Chisolm and is the de facto leader of the townspeople in need of help.

Diverse casting aside, the film never feels like it’s ABOUT diversity. We don’t have a bunch of forced stereotypes here; it’s what they have in common and what they want that provides the depth, humor, and heart of the movie.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The desire of the heroic collective is simple; they want to do what’s right. An objective like that harkens back to classic western narratives where the good guys fight against an evil that’s not ambiguous and there’s no attempt to make us understand why the villain is a villain.

This story of the old west is not overcome with modern cynicism, but when the remake delivers a crooked, wealthy industrialist, played by Peter Sarsgaard (the original Seven’s villain was a Mexican bandit), you see a glimmer of who we consider the villain to be in our modern time. Sarsgaard is the wealthy “other” who comes into town to prey upon the little people. This Lex-Luthor-type villain that creates another connection between the western and the comic book genre and adds to the post-9/11, post-recession themes of threat from outside, class warfare, and even the rise of populism.

Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue

The cinematography and music match the epic scope of yesteryears westerns without feeling like it has to entertain modern audiences with fast cuts, speed ramps, sexy slow motion, and edgy CGI effects. Also gone is the parade of morally ambiguous characters common to “new” westerns. Putting it bluntly this film is not The Hateful Eight and it doesn’t try to be.

I’m sure some may feel like this film is stale because of how it it enjoys clinging to classic conventions, however I found the traditional tone to be a refreshing change from the current social climate where some real life leaders fall short of heroism. Feel free to call this good escapist entertainment. I do.

Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

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