Once upon a time, before spandex and capes became the dominant force, the heroes of the big screen wore cowboy hats and let their revolvers do the talking. But while the western genre has faded from prominence since the times of Clint Eastwood’s legendary films, we occasionally still get one that’s worth talking about. Just recently Tarrantino delivered the Hateful Eight, and now we subtract a number but get far more positive in Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven. But does this remake stand up to the classics?
Let’s get this right off the bat: when done properly Westerns are a lot of fun. There’s something undoubtedly cool about the tropes used in the genre that just work. The good news is The Magnificent Seven pulls this off. Plot wise it doesn’t stray far at all from the 1960 movie of the same name, and if we’re being honest even if you haven’t seen the original you’ve seen the basic premise before. Hell I watched an episode of Firefly before the movie which was basically the same as this (Heart of Gold if you’re wondering). A bad guy is threatening to take control of a town, and so one inhabitant goes out to search for people to help them reclaim the town. Once this team is assembled, a big shootout for the town takes place.
It’s a simple premise, but it isn’t one that you easily tire of, especially if the cast is good. And in the case of The Magnificent Seven, you’re wanting to see these people on the screen. Denzel Washington is perfect for the lead role here as Sam Chisolm, a no nonsense bounty hunter who commands the respect and attention of both the audience and the other characters. Denzel has an aura about him which translates well here, and he bounces well off of the other main member of the seven: Joshua Faraday – played by one of Hollywood’s new favourites in Chris Pratt. This is a role that is well in his wheelhouse, playing a combination joker/gunslinger that isn’t all that far removed from Star Lord in Guardians.
Not all of the seven get the same kind of characterisation and screentime as Denzel and Pratt, but even without that development there isn’t a weak link among the seven. They all bring something to the table even with limited focus, and often that display is visual rather than verbal, which given the nature of the movie is fine by me. Ethan Hawke’s character is probably the deepest of the bunch, and while none of their character arcs will surprise you they help to fill the story and get you invested in their situation. It is a shame that some of these guys end up being underused and developed though, but it is the curse of the ensemble movie.
Beyond the seven on the poster, Haley Bennett plays a crucial role as the woman who sets out to build this mish-mash team of fighters, and does a great job as the central focus of the town’s plight. This is doubly so with the help of a suitably evil performance by Peter Sarsgaard. Like the rest of the film he’s not a deep and conflicted antagonist, but instead a straight to the point lightning rod for your dislike.
The core of what makes The Magnificent Seven work is that it doesn’t try and be anything more than it is. This isn’t a complex character study or breakdown of themes, it’s a straight up action comedy that promises laughter and gunfights. And it delivers in spades on both fronts. The humour is well placed throughout the film, never threatening to undermine the more serious moments but I constantly found myself laughing out loud. Chris Pratt gets the lion’s share of the punchlines, but like with the action everyone gets their chances to make you laugh.
And yes, the highlight are the shootouts, as they really should be. There’s a couple of them scattered through the film building in size and scope, and all of them are great fun. Sure you can break them down and argue that the good guys have improbable aiming skills (they do) but it doesn’t hurt the intensity and action. All of the showdowns are teasers for the finale, which is a big and bombastic war that goes for a good twenty odd minutes. It could easily wear thin but the action is well crafted, with ebbs and flows in the conflict and a constant build towards the last moments.
The Magnificent Seven sets out to be a fun action film and a throwback to the western genre that used to dominate Hollywood well before the capes became the hot ticket. It’s not a revolutionary film, but it pays respect to the source material and works as both a western and an action comedy. It’s funny when it wants to be funny, exciting when it is time for action, and all in all does everything right and is definitely worth a watch, even if it isn’t going to end up being the most memorable film out there.