Magnificent Seven is More Mediocre Than Magnificent


Hollywood’s latest attempt at The Magnificent Seven boasts solid acting and the always amazing Denzel Washington, but little in the way of lasting impact.

1954’s Seven Samurai is one of the more well-regarded movies to remake, as evidenced by how many movies Hollywood has made with the same premise. The Magnificent Seven was a 1960s English-language remake with a glittering cast and it’s about time someone’s childhood to be trounced upon. (Then again, they remade this with men, so there’s no issue!) Directed by Antoine Fuqua, this new take on The Magnificent Seven boasts another A-list cast, but forsakes characters for bloodless, PG-13 action that entertains without resonating.

The town of Rose Creek is terrorized by a vicious mine baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). A local woman enlists the help of bounty hunter Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) to save the town before Bogue returns. Chisholm rounds up six ne’er-do-wells to help train the town to protect themselves.

This probably isn’t the best thing to admit, but the only version of Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven I’ve seen is A Bug’s Life. Yes, the animated kids version of this story is what I went in with. With that being said, Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven is a skillful, if overlong, tale of desperadoes seeking redemption and a town desperate for absolution.

There are eerie similarities to The Patriot as the story opens in Rose Creek. (More overt comparisons to Django Unchained happen frequently.) Haley Bennett and Matt Bomer are the lovely couple determined to stop Bogue, and let’s just say there’s a reason one of these people isn’t in the marketing. Peter Sarsgaard goes full John Malkovich as Bogue, emulating the actor’s performance in Jonah Hex with exaggerated Southern mannerisms that leave him perpetually annoyed. Bogue’s so Snively Whiplash evil he waltzes out of a burning church while smoking a  cigarette. Not quite sure what the comparison is there…do you?

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Bennett’s Emma is all heaving bosom; a requirement because she can’t just be a girl who can wield a gun and take care of herself, right? Similar to True Grit, Emma gets Washington’s Chisholm to help. Chisholm has his own grudge with Bogue and that’s more than enough to sustain the film’s two-hour runtime. Washington is a beast as Chisholm and The Magnificent Seven survives on his aggressive dominance. Washington shows a flair for being a Western hero – slinging his six-guns, doing impressive stunts with a horse and generally being a bad-ass. His character has the strongest reason for Bogue’s demise and it invests the audience to his character.

The rest of the Seven lack the panache Washington evokes. In terms of characterization and acting Ethan Hawke’s mysterious Goodnight Robicheaux is on equal footing as Washington. Known as the “Angel of Death,” Robicheaux grapples with continuing to fight, and Hawke vacillates between teacher and traumatized soldier.

Because the other actors are written in broad strokes and don’t possess Washington and Hawke’s nuances it’s understandable, if not frustrating, to see how unmemorable everyone else is. Unlike Washington and Hawke, who act like men living in the early 1800s, Chris Pratt’s Josh Faraday comes off as a modern guy working as a cowboy at a theme park. His name alone evokes a contemporary setting. Pratt comes off like a teen wearing his first suit. He looks uncomfortable and has trouble wrapping his tongue around the period dialogue, leaving many lines cold and formal. He loosens up when his character becomes the group’s jokester making his performance no different from Starlord, just in spurs.

Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensemeier round out the seven and they all perform capably in their roles as weirdo, Robicheaux’s right-hand man, “a Mexican” as Faraday lovingly says, and the resident Native American, respectively. Again, none of these characters have the mystery and history of Washington and Hawke’s characters. Those stars are legends for a reason, able to convey oceans of time with a glance; the others miss the depth and capability required to make up for the loss of narrative function.

What this Magnificent Seven wants to accomplish is unknown. Does it want to transcend the original or the previous remake? Does it want to say something new regarding race? Neither one of these answers is an immediate yes. In terms of the former, the film enjoys old-fashioned close-ups on gun-twirling while the latter leaves that to a few lines at the climax.

What the film achieves is pure popcorn enjoyment, especially at the end. When Bogue and the townsfolk of Rose Creek finally meet it’s an explosion of bullets, arrows and other things that leave one dead. Despite its PG-13 rating there’s no skimping on bullet holes in people’s heads, although the lack of blood becomes laughable. There’s something so watchable about Denzel Washington stalking the streets of a small-town, jumping on a horse’s back and shooting that you wish the movie didn’t wait two hours to let that happen.

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This new take on The Magnificent Seven won’t appease fans of the prior versions, and rightfully so. What it does is inspire newcomers, like myself, to seek out those other versions. Washington and Hawke are great fun, and the film’s climax is riveting. However, this comes at the expense of two hours of talky, staid Western conventions and trendy casting decisions that don’t gel.