Turns Out, You Can Bring A Knife To A Gun Fight…
…As well as hatchets, machetes, playing cards, bows and arrows, pinwheels, dynamite, and pretty much anything else you can think of in Antoine Fuqua’s thrilling remake of The Magnificent Seven. The film itself is pretty standard fare for an old western; the plot is thin, but the acting still makes even the most predictable moments at least somewhat compelling. Mix that with some truly entertaining gunfights, and you have a modern day western that succeeds in cinematics, but fails in standing out in the genre.
Now, I don’t think anyone really expected The Magnificent Seven to reinvent the cowboy genre. You can glean the entire story from the trailers; rather, this is a film that lives and dies by its cast. Thankfully, the Magnificent Seven themselves are the best part of the movie. Denzel Washington once again proves his on-screen dominance as Chisolm, a legally-empowered bounty hunter. His authority with that Colt is mesmerizing, and it’s always entertaining to see him to take command of even the most dangerous situations.
However, while Washington is the centerpiece of the cast, the real star of the show is Chris Pratt’s Josh Faraday, the wild card gambler with a quick mouth and even quicker hands. Pratt could have easily phoned this role in, relying on his usual charisma and humor to sell the character, but instead he spins a compelling cowboy that consistently leaves you wondering just how “good” of a man he truly is. I was constantly wondering what his true motivation was behind taking on this impossible job, especially during the quiet scenes where he “bonds” with the more morally-righteous characters.
Ethan Hawke delivers a good performance as the PTSD-stricken legendary sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux. His character sort of goes all over the place, but Hawke manages to make it all feel consistent and believable. His compatriot, Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks, is also a scene stealer (whenever he gets the chance to talk, that is). He’s handy with a blade, striking men down with knives and “hair pins.” He’s a ninja amongst cowboys, and his fight choreography is the best in the film.
Vincent D’Onofrio is incredibly odd as Jack Horne, a semi-crazed ex-tracker. His high-pitched, raspy voice I found unsettling at first, and his feral demeanor constantly put me on edge, yet somehow by the end of the film, I found myself enjoying his character just as much as the rest. His dramatic flair for murder and righteous glory in the eyes of God is simultaneously bewildering and entertaining.
Martin Sensmier’s Red Harvest, the sole Native American member of this “merry band,” is basically your stereotypical mute badass who hunts men down like only a cliché Hollywood Native American warrior can. His culture shock diving into the white man’s lifestyle can be pretty funny, and Sensmier does play a pretty good badass, but there’s really not much else to this one-dimensional character.
Lastly of the titular seven, there’s Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez, a smart-mouthed Mexican outlaw. Unfortunately, the character gets more or less wasted on being second-string comedic support to Pratt. He’s the first person Chisolm recruits after Faraday, and his introduction is great as he ropes up Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen. I had high hopes his character would use that rope throughout the film, but he never uses it again, and his initially-promising character winds up feeling like just a placeholder.
Bennett delivers a surprisingly effective vengeful widow, desperate to find help for her doomed town. While it could have been easy for the character to have been a simple plot device to set up the final showdown, instead, Bennett manages to make the character her own. She helps remind us that there are simple, good people at risk, and that even those people will rise up and fight when they have to.
Peter Sarsgaard does a well enough job as Bartholomew Bogue, the ill-intentioned mining company owner who’s intent on making an empire for himself. He’s a one-dimensional villain, with literally no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but in a film where the plot boils down to “Hey don’t take my land,” you don’t really need a very compelling antagonist.
Like I said, the plot is really just a squabble over land. Sarsgaard is a man of wealth and means, and won’t lose a second of sleep over destroying Rose Creek. If anything, The Magnificent Seven pays tribute to just how much people could get away with back in the old west, with a man waging a small war over a peaceful town without worrying once about state or federal prosecution. Rather than do anything compelling with the genre, the film just trots along at a brisk pace, setting up the board for a thrilling finale shootout.
Even the manner in which the seven come together is loose, at best. The job is very clearly a suicide mission, yet everyone involved seems to just go along with it like they have nothing better to do. Particularly Red Harvest, who quite literally just shows up out of nowhere, then joins the team because he has no idea what else he’s supposed to do.
I will say that I was surprisingly pleased with how gritty the film was. The portrayal of death was pretty brutal, especially considering its PG-13 rating. People get gunned down left and right, stabbed and butchered, trampled by horses; it’s quite a violent film when the action happens. That’s not to say the film revels in its own portrayal of violence, however; if Fuqua does anything right by this action westerner, it’s the film’s presentation.
Again, The Magnificent Seven is not a film you go to be blown away by, it’s a film you go to be entertained by. And thankfully, the action and humor go a long way. The shootouts and “high noon” moments are aplenty, and each character brings their own signature style of fighting to the table. Whether it be Faraday using magic tricks or Chisolm hanging half off his horse mid-shot, there’s no shortage of fun to be found out here in Rose Creek.