“Provides modest, momentary entertainment…”
Remaking the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven – which was already, in itself, a remake of the classic Akira Kurosawa epic Seven Samurai – and ballooning its budget into a nine-figure blockbuster at the dawn of fall is a bigger gamble than people might think. American audiences have shrugged off Westerns similar to how the heroes in the very same Westerns shrug off the idea that they could be killed in the very same split-second where they would and often kill someone else by way of a quick and lucky shot. One could argue that doing both – making a Western and being the hero of one – takes about the same level of courage.
Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven is actually a fairly entertaining time at the movies, combining trademark genre-conventions and tying them together with a strong action sequence at the end, even if pesky qualms do surface and detract from the overall product. In true Western fashion, the slender plot involves a group of seven outlaws and societal rejects standing up to a despicable capitalist known as Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who plans to take over the sleepy town of Rose Creek in post-Civil War America.
The band of outlaws is led by a bounty hunter named Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) and assisted by the likes of slickster gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a skilled sharpshooter and petty gambler Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), an elderly tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Comanche warrior known as “Red Harvest” (Martin Sensmeier), and the quiet assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), my personal favorite character in the film.
The characters vary across the board, from pretty stereotypical Western archetypes to more intelligent, reserved characters that honor the traditional genre-code of conveying their emotions and ideas with minimal spoken words and more body language. Billy Rocks is the one who embodies this trait more than any of the others and manages to be the best, most interesting character because of it. While “Red Harvest” comes close, he can’t match the true enigmatic personality of the often-silent and laidback Rocks due to his insistence on spouting out some sort of quirky, racially charged jab whenever he gets the chance. Rocks is steadfast in his approach and meticulously accurate in his attacks by way of blunt-force. He’s a fascinating soul.
Make no mistake, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke alone are all worth the price of admission, as they all subvert themselves in a sense by carrying a very particular and eclectic genre in the modern day, while D’Onofrio and Garcia-Rulfo make themselves work effectively as well. But nobody matches the true kind of grace and charm that Lee does, nor his character. I would’ve loved the film to play by his quieter tune.
With that being said, the only other real glaring enemy of The Magnificent Sevenis its PG-13 rating, handicapping much of the period-appropriate profanity, violence, and possibly any kind of romance. While the violence is graphic enough to prove, yet again, that the MPAA will never award a film an R-rating based on violence alone, it does still seem unsatisfying in how sterile some of the shootouts are (consider the scene where Josh cleanly takes off a hearty chunk of some schmuck’s ear leaving a stunningly absent blood-trail).
But the long-term memorable qualities of The Magnificent Seven are indeed few and far between as is; for what it’s worth, though it’s stunningly robbed from any kind of stylistic flair in a cinematographical or directorial sense and is, once again, handicapped by its rating, it provides modest, momentary entertainment and shows us that it’s one of the summer blockbusters that showed up tardy to the party.