This timeless tale of warriors defending the weak has its moments of strength, but due to an overlong runtime and lack of real zest, it clocks in at 2.5 out of 5 stars.
The 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai was adapted into one of American cinema's most legendary motion pictures in 1960, The Magnificent Seven. Now there's a remake for a new generation starring Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington. Bartholomew Bough (Peter Sarsgaard) is a gold miner essentially holding the small town of Rose Creek hostage under a regime of hard labor and cruelty. After a particularly gut-wrenching killing spree from Bough and his lackeys, newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) goes off to seek justice and revenge by hiring Chisolm (Washington) to find her a band of men who will fight to win back the freedom of Rose Creek. Along the way they pick up a diverse band of misfits, including aging sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheux (Ethan Hawke) and the nimble-fingered Josh Faraday (Pratt).
The film is a feel-good Western in many ways. The action is present and vibrant, the characters don’t get bogged down with too much backstory, and the rugged Wild West backdrop and costumes are a feast for the eyes. It definitely feels like a film where the cast and crew had a lot of fun; there’s good chemistry amongst the Seven. Veteran Ethan Hawke especially shines as one of the film’s more complex characters, and his interaction with co-stars Denzel Washington and Byung-hun Lee has a solid, truthful spark.
Despite its charms, the film falls flat in many ways, and its appeal will not be universal. It’s a half-hour too long. It’s a little more dramatic than perhaps it needed to be (something that could also be said of Pratt) and while the script isn’t bad, it’s underwhelming and not particularly memorable. It wants to be a cool movie, but it's lacking the necessary sharpness. Instead, it’s merely diverting. Also (true to the genre) all the female characters end up as props for the men. Bennett does a good job with what she's given, but even though her character is crucial to the story, she quickly becomes relegated to eye candy and adopts the arc of every other Western heroine.
For the more sensitive viewers, it will also be difficult to watch the nonstop parade of shootings and death. It truly is the Wild West in The Magnificent Seven, and dozens upon dozens of bodies fall before the final act closes (although not in the graphic manner one might find in a Tarantino film).
Rose Creek's church building becomes a very central focus and metaphor in the story. Characters discuss God and spirituality in simple terms, and a local preacher gives wisdom in several scenes. Characters question the wisdom of vengeance and what the path to righteousness looks like. Characters ponder the weight of death and sacrifice, particularly laying down one's life for someone smaller or weaker. There is also a character who speaks mostly in prayers, proverbs, and biblical references.
RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who like the aesthetic of a Western, but the pace of a modern action flick. Chris Pratt fans. Particular fans of the late composer James Horner, as this engaging score was his final cinematic work before his untimely death in 2015.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those sensitive to violence. Intense lovers of the original Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai. Those who set the bar of the modern Western at films like Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, or True Grit.
The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua, opened in theaters September 23, 2016; available for home viewing December 20, 2016. It runs 132 minutes and stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Haley Bannett, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Peter Sarsgaard. Watch the trailer for The Magnificent Seven here.
Debbie Holloway is a storyteller, creator, critic and advocate having adventures in Brooklyn, New York.
Publication date: September 23, 2016