The Magnificent Seven (2016) / Western-Action

MPAA Rated: Rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material
Running Time: 132 min.

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Vincent D'Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk

Review published September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a classic Western of the same name from 1960, which itself is a remake of a classic samurai masterpiece, The Seven Samurai, by Akira Kurosawa.  Antoine Fuqua takes the director's chair, reuniting with Denzel Washington for the third time, after Training Day (which also features Ethan Hawke), and The Equalizer (which also features Haley Bennett).  Although updated to make the main team of heroes more ethnically diverse, this disposable-but-not-unenjoyable 2016 update retains an old-fashioned Western sensibility that will likely please those nostalgic for a return to the genre the way it used to be, embracing the formula they know quite well.

Set in the year 1879, this new version moves the action from feudal Japan and Mexico to a struggling new town called Rose Creek, who are being bled dry and forced to leave or die from a ruthless and iron-fisted land baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard), who is looking to continue amassing riches by getting rid of the meek residents of the town to further set up his gold-mining operation. When Bogue's attempts to terrorize the people of Rose Creek into leaving turn deadly, recently widowed Emma Cullen (Bennett) seeks righteousness and revenge by enlisting the services of fearless duly-appointed warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Washington) to help protect the town and put an end to Bogue's murderous ways. With the local sheriff and deputies on his payroll, and an army of desperadoes to protect Bogue, Chisolm knows he's going to need a formidable team on his side as well, soon enlisting the services of a ragtag group of skilled gunfighters, as well as to train the town of mostly pacifists on how to fight for the town that's rightfully theirs.

Nic Pizzolatto, who created "True Detective" for HBO, and Richard Wenk, who scripted the screenplay for Antione Fuqua's previous outing with Denzel Washington, The Equalizer, provides the adaptation.  It's a predictable storyline, with sketchy and broad characterizations, and little in terms of lived-in backstories except for what the plot necessitates, but it does have a varied cast that is fun to watch exchange banter with one another on occasion. The real attraction to The Magnificent Seven, other than its charismatic cast, is the opportunity for action. This isn't a wall-to-wall actioner, but Fuqua does deliver on a few prolonged set pieces that will deliver for those looking for some good gunplay and explosions, even though the persistent rotation of focus to give each particular member of the "seven" their time to shine can get a bit repetitive. That said, the climax of the film encoaches into overkill, and is full of the film's dumber developments, not the least of which is the introduction of an implausible "weapon of mass destruction" that, logic would dictate, should have been used at the beginning of the main conflict, rather than toward the end. The fact that the townspeople are willing to fight for their town in a manner in which they will likely to results in its destruction is another strategic headscratcher.

Peter Sarsgaard plays his villain as pained and seething force of malevolence, though the performance does cross the line into being hammy in the way that many Western villains of Hollywood Old were generally portrayed as.  He's a very good actor, but his one-note character is a stock devil-inside bad guy, and therefore extremely uninteresting, only distinct because he looks like someone trying to hold in his flatulence throughout the film. While the cast performs adequately in their respective roles, with Denzel anchoring the gravitas of the story with sheer screen presence alone, it is Ethan Hawke who manages to deliver the closes thing to a standout as the former Confederate army expert sharpshooter who is clearly suffering a malady that has him unable to play proper hero. He is to Goodnight Robicheaux what Val Kilmer is to Tombstone's Doc Holliday. Meanwhile, second-billed Pratt is a bit vanilla as the booze-swilling trickster Josh Faraday, but fans of his will find it an appealing new turn, and he does up the film's marketability.

Although the heroes are comprised of a mix of different ethnicities, and the villains are all white (save for one Comanche), outside of some playful back-and-forth among the men, there is a curious lack of distinct racial epithets; some aggression is implied but not outwardly stated. Also interesting to note that, without spoiling the film, this is one case where you won't be able to guess who lives or dies depending on typical Hollywood tropes where the minorities seem to be expendable. In fact, this film seems to be an intentional subversion in this respect.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Mauro Flore, filmed in parts of Louisiana and Arizona.  The late James Horner's trademark flourishes can be heard in the score, with assists by co-composer Simon Franglen, who occasionally echoes the memorable Elmer Bernstein score of the original version of the film without lifting it outright. From a technical standpoint, all of the ingredients are here tor top-flight entertainment, save for a script that plays anything more than generic and generally uninspired. Unfortunately, regardless of Fuqua's talent at delivering flash and grit, The Magnificent Seven remains a streaky film, getting into a groove for a number of scenes before stumbling into stymieing ineptitude.

Although hokey in some scenes and hackneyed in others, The Magnificent Seven will likely deliver just enough of what Western-action enthusiasts are coming to the theater for to recommend it as a piece of popcorn entertainment.  It won't become a classic, but for those who enjoy classic Westerns, it's an occasionally clunky yet modestly engaging revival.

One more thing: Parents should be warned that, despite a generously lax PG-13 rating, this is a brutally violent film that would have easily gotten an R rating with just a little more blood (if not as is).

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo