The Magnificent Seven turns a classic western (which was itself adapted from the ’54 foreign film Seven Samurai) into an opportunity to make Denzel Washington look cool in a cowboy hat. In a little documentary on the movie, he said he took the role because he had never been in a western before. I suppose when you do action films for a living, doing them with spurs might seem like a breath of fresh air.
I kid Denzel (for he has two Oscars and I have zero), but The Magnificent Seven puts Denzel in the same confident, ass-kicking role that he’s done only a couple hundred times (Man on Fire, The Equalizer etc.). So forgive me if I’m not particularly excited to watch him kill nameless people while bullets fly perfectly around him for two hours again.
Luckily, director Anotine Fuqua never forgets to put the spot light on the other six men, who are a lot more interesting. It may sound disrespectful to Washington’s talent, but the film succeeds mostly in spite of him.
The town of Rose Creek is under siege from businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who sends a message to the residents by killing some of them, including a textbook brave and stupid man played by Matt Bomer. His wife (Haley Bennett) goes on a mission to find seven men to kill Bogue and free their town.
The seven men are diverse, and not just in terms of personality. Fuqua stated he wanted a varied cast to reflect the fact that there were a lot of minorities in the west, which is a brave thing to do considering westerns have widely been regarded as a white man’s genre. The approach works because Fuqua doesn’t shy away from the messy reality of it; an early scene shows Washington’s character getting a bar’s full of side-eyed looks when he enters. They’re not staring at his black clothes, but rather his dark skin.
From there, it’s a traditional assembling of a motley crew. There’s a Native American (Martin Sensmeier) that introduces himself by eating a deer’s heart, a trapper (Vincent D’Onofrio) who apparently has the voice of a wheezy black man, and an expert quick drawer (Byung-Hun Lee) with his sharpshooter friend (Ethan Hawke). All of them are fascinating to watch, and Washington’s usual tough guy persona becomes a lot more bearable when placed around interesting character actors.
The set-up takes a little long, but seeing the seven men interact together is a payoff that’s worth it. Fuqua does a good job creating a camaraderie between these men that resembles the messy passion of family. Seeing Hawke and Washington reunite fifteen years after their classic Training Day is a warm sight, and Fuqua (who also directed that film) makes sure to give the actors a meaty scene together.
It’s the epitome of professional filmmaking that makes a goal and sets out to achieve it. There’s nothing flashy about watching these men crack jokes and prod each other about their lives, but it’s still entertaining.
Did you ever notice that in most action movies that bad guys with guns are useless? In this picture Bogue’s henchmen fire numerous guns that never hit their target, but whenever the seven shoot, they have perfect aim. It’s a minor nitpick that I had with the climax. When the main characters do get shot (I won’t reveal whom), it feels like they’re killed by the script. You could say that about any movie where somebody dies, but I’ll put it this way; in The Lion King, the picture did such a good job outlining Scar’s motives that I felt like he killed Simba, not that the script felt the need to murder him.
The performances of the seven men are mostly excellent, although I consider Washington the weak link. He’s very much on autopilot here, and the film would’ve been no different had he been replaced with another leading man around his age (say, Kevin Costner). Chris Pratt’s western drawl is inconsistent, but he does a good job playing a wily rascal in a get up that doesn’t look to different from an Indiana Jones audition.
Peter Sarsgaard gives what you would call an interesting performance, in the sense that it’s fascinating how miscalculated it is. He tries to portray Bogue as an out-of-control capitalist/sociopath, but the trembling voice and constant shaking make it seem like he’s on the verge of a seizure most of the time. I suppose that’s scary if he’s holding a gun, but it doesn’t work in quieter scenes. Haley Bennett is so terrific and gutsy that I wanted her to officially join the seven, even if it turned it into The Magnificent Seven Plus One.
Fuqua has an ability to craft stylish action, so the climax (there’s a machine gun) will thrill those seeking bloody gunfights. It’s an extended gunfight that goes in waves, although I was counting myself how exactly Bogue still had more men to fight for him when the seven heroes were clearly dispatching people by the dozens. Perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking so much and just enjoy the action instead.
If you saw the trailer for this, you probably had an idea for what you’re getting. A very serious movie with a lot of action and Denzel being a badass. Luckily, Fuqua put less of the focus on Denzel and more on the group, creating a film that’s a lot more enjoyable you’d think.
Do I think that people will be remembering this over the original ten years from now? No. But I can’t deny that Fuqua cooked up a good little action movie simply by crafting a good set-up and letting his cast rip. I wouldn’t want to see him reteam with Washington to remake Rashomon, (another Japanese classic, and one of my favorites) but I’ll accept this one.