From a young age, I’ve always been drawn to the western genre. Though I have many I like, love and adore, there’s only one that I claim as my favorite, and that’s 1960’s The Magnificent Seven. So when I found out a remake was in the works with a solid action director and a pretty impressive cast? I was nervous yet excited. Away we go with 2016’s The Magnificent Seven.
It’s 1879 in the mining town of Rose Creek and a ruthless industrialist, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), brutally runs the town and claims the mining rights, even murdering several townspeople. Watching her husband gunned down by Bogue, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) has had enough and rides to a nearby town seeking help. There she finds bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) who agrees to help and starts by assembling an eclectic mix of gunslingers, fighters and specialists, including a hard-drinking gambler named Faraday (Chris Pratt). With six men backing him up, Chisolm rides out to Rose Creek and takes over the town. Now, all the seven can do is wait as Bogue and a small army begins the march to re-take the town. Can Chisolm and his crew defend the town?
Why touch the 1960 version? Simply put, Hollywood didn’t need to. But still, big-budget westerns are few and far between in theaters so I was always on-board as production and filming kicked off. Long story short…it’s a good and not great western that’s a lot of fun but has some major issues/flaws. I still recommend it — especially for western fans — and I’ll definitely watch it again, but flaws are flaws. Be warned!
From director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, The Equalizer), ‘Magnificent’ gets points for its knowledge and respect of the western genre. The movie looks great, including the tension-packed staredowns building to the shootout, the riders silhouetted against the horizon, with some gorgeous filming locations in Louisiana and New Mexico. Though he died before he could complete the score, composer James Horner started his score, with his friend and business partner Simon Franglen finishing the score. Nothing hugely memorable with some recurring themes, but solid enough. It’s hard to live up to the famous reputation of the original Elmer Bernstein score. Naturally.
Right up there with Bernstein’s score is the casting of the original; Brynner, McQueen, Bronson, Coburn, Vaughn, Wallach and others. M7 2.016? It’s not bad. Washington is one of the best actors out there, and he’s a good fit as the man in black, Sam Chisolm, a law officer of sorts who’s lightning fast with a gun. LIGHTNING quick. Still on the rise as a star, Pratt makes a gutsy call going for the sidekick role as Faraday, the hard-drinking, quick-thinking gambler who’s good with a pistol. Who else to round out the 7? There’s Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a legendary sharpshooter, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), an expert with a knife, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a bible-thumping, tomahawk- and axe-slinging tracker, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Mexican outlaw on the run, and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a young Comanche warrior seeking his own road in life.
For starters, our 7 is a little more politically correct with a black, Asian, Mexican, and Native American character. Some reviewers had more issues with that issue than I did (I had no issue with it). The most essential feature of the group? Simple. Do you like them? ‘Magnificent’ does its best to bring this group to life. Some of the high points are the 7 sitting around a table, joking, drinking and bonding. Not surprisingly, it is some of the movie’s best moments. The quiet moments. The build-up to battle. The realization that all of them might die. A highlight has Hawke’s Goodnight and Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez talking about their fathers, both who fought at the Alamo on opposing sides. Goodnight laughs “I sense we are bonding.” The movie needed more of those moments.
That becomes the biggest issue for me. The 2016 ‘7’ runs 133 minutes, five minutes longer than the 1960 ‘7.’ Without adding too much to the story, it is longer but manages to characterize our heroes far, far less. That’s disappointing. The recruitment is quick without much development, and then the 7 are off and riding. It’s slow-moving at times but not in ways you’d want it as we get to meet our seven eclectic anti-heroes. That lack of characterization is the movie’s biggest wasted opportunity. The 1960 ‘7’ is a classic because in lightning-quick snippets we do get to know the Seven. We see what drives them in a changing world, that for a change, they’re doing something good and right, odds and danger be damned. Here? That’s missing. We get some individual reasoning from character to character, but not for all. For some, it feels like something to do.
So what’s the verdict solely on our 7 as characters? Disappointingly, Washington is underused/misused. He’s cool. He’s a badass, but too often, it feels like he gets lost in the shuffle of the ensemble. The same for Pratt’s Faraday. A confident gambling gunfighter who’s always ready with a one-liner seems like a gimme for the very talented Pratt…but there’s not much more to the part. Why exactly does he go along? What’s his reasoning? Hawke and Lee come off best as partners Goodnight and Rocks. Their friendship feels genuine. Wishful thinking, but I’d love a prequel there. D’Onofrio hams it up but is solid, Sensmeier is an underutilized but cool presence, as is Garcia-Ruflo as Vasquz, sadly the least developed of the 7. So much potential, but rarely does it add up.
For me then, the blame comes down to the script from Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk. And as always, who knows how much of their finished script made the movie with changes, cuts and editing. It’s a movie that is missing something. We kinda get to know the characters, but not always what drives them, their motivation. Instead, the 7 become cool and stylish — oh, look, Chris Pratt spinning six-shooters! — rather than flesh and blood characters. We’re still rooting for them, but more as actors than characters. It’s impossible not to compare the two, especially when the bar was set so high with the 1960 version.
Who else to look for? Sarsgaard is clearly having some fun as Bogue, the sneering, intimidating and cutthroat villain. Pretty straightforward villain character, a refreshing change from kinda bad villains. Bennett is very good with a character that isn’t given much to do, but I thought she was excellent. She also wears lots of low-cut, revealing shirts. Coincidence I figure, right? Also look for Luke Grimes as Teddy Q, the most visible townsperson, Matt Bomer as Bennett’s husband, Jonathan Joss as Bogue’s Indian warrior enforcer, Cam Gigandet as McCann, a Bogue deputy, and Mark Ashworth as Rose Creek’s Preacher.
Ready for a review-changing 180 degree turn? It might seem like I didn’t like the 2016 version at all. FALSE. I liked it a lot! It’s just my reasons are different. My biggest hope for this remake was entertainment value. Is it fun? Do I enjoy it? I’m not looking for it to live up to the original. I like award season, but mostly, movies are fun for me. This action-heavy western was a hell of a lot of fun. I wish there was more of a balance among the action, story and characters, but even judging ‘Magnificent’ solely on its action setting, it’s a win.
A PG-13 flick, ‘Magnificent’ racks up an impressive body count, but nothing gets too graphic. There’s some cool, often startling violence sprinkled early before we see what Sam and Co. are capable of as they ride into Rose Creek to tangle with the “deputies” Bogue left behind to watch the town. We get some training and planning sequences as a follow-up, all building to the epic finale as Bogue’s army of gunmen descend on the town. I didn’t time it, but the entire sequence must run 25 minutes. It…is…a…doozy. No spoilers but the 7 do take casualties once the bullets start flying. It’s a chaotic, frenetic, but most importantly, well-choreographed action sequence. I always felt like I had a read on where everyone was, what’s going on, what’s it all building too. Fuqua clearly knows action, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Yeah, there’s flaws. If the movie had picked a different name, maybe I don’t hold it to high standard, or at least, high expectations. It succeeds best as an action western. A tighter story, better developed characters would have gone a long way, but what’s there is pretty good, just not great. I was entertained throughout and easily recommend it. Also worth mentioning — but again, no spoilers — is stay for the opening parts of the credits. Fans of the 1960 version shall not be disappointed. Overall, I hope folks go out and see this western. The genre has become a cheap, straight-to-DVD/BluRay market unfortunately. Even if ‘Magnificent’ absolutely sucked (which it didn’t), it would have been fun just to see a well-made western in theaters. Hopefully, there’s more coming down the road.
Definitely worth seeing, especially for action fans. Love to hear what other viewers think. Who was your favorite of the 7? Were you surprised at the ending? Did you like the nods to the original?
The Magnificent Seven (2016): ***/****