Magnificent 7: The classic western returns

As many of you know (read: anyone I’ve talked to anywhere in the last six months), I’ve been anticipating Magnificent 7 since I first heard about the remake. As the release date grew closer, it looked better and better with every promo clip and interview I devoured.

Good news: Magnificent 7 lives up to the hype. It’s just the right mix of beloved tropes and fresh characters. This cast knocked it out of the park.

Without spoiling anything, the premise is as follows: there’s this town (Rose Creek) that’s been taken over by bad guy Bartholomew Bogue. The peaceful settlement is held under the sway of his cronies as he poisons the water, steals their land and starts a mining operation — pretty much everything a bad guy in western is supposed to do.

The opening scene lays out the tension the honest townfolk feel under Bogue’s cruel hand. You’re on edge. You don’t know what he’s going to do or who his next victim will be. You hate the guy.

Next comes our fearless heroine, Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett). As the trailer shows, she goes out and recruits law man Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington himself) to come save her town. It’s not clear exactly why he takes the job at first — is it money, is it his sense of justice or is there something deeper at play? There’s this great exchange between Emma and Chisolm that goes something like this:

“This is everything, all we have,” Emma says, handing him the bag of their savings.

“I’ve never been offered everything for a job before,” he replies.

In the following scenes, we’re introduced to the rest of the crew. Magnificent 7 is an incredibly fast-paced film, but even so, we get just enough back story on (most of) the seven. It’s the old adage about essay-writing: long enough to cover the subject (in most cases) and short enough to keep things interesting (and moving). Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad could’ve taken some serious notes here.

Perhaps Magnificent 7’s strongest point is the fact that the group of so-called saviors are far from spotless. Even Emma admits that she’ll “settle for revenge” after realizing righteousness is off the table. I was glad to see Bennett’s character hold her own and not get lost in the limelight of all guys.

Magnificent 7 wide

Sam Chisolm is a stone-cold killer who just happens to have the law on his side. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is sarcastic gambler who can’t help but pick a fight wherever he goes (he’s borderline psychotic at times). Vasquex (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is an outlaw who just genuinely enjoys shooting people. Goodnight Robicheaux (played to perfection by Ethan Hawke) is a confederate sharpshooter with some serious PTSD, living by and with the ghosts of his bloody past. He and his knife-throwing sidekick Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) makes for an interesting duo. Throughout the movie, Billy proves to be Goodnight’s — albeit somewhat crooked — crutch and their relationship shines as much as all of Lee’s fancy knife work and stunts.

This leaves Jack Horne (Vicent D’Onofrio), a crazy mountain man who’s found God, and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a “lone wolf” Comanche warrior.

In my opinion, Jack and especially Red Harvest got the short end of the stick when it came to character depth. You get a little taste of how tragic Jack’s past is when he’s first introduced but he loses a bit of this depth throughout the course of the film. It’s still a spectacular performance by D’Onfrio, though.

Red Harvest really gets shafted. The extent of his background amounts to “hey, I’m called Red Harvest. My people say I’m meant to walk a different path. Let’s eat raw meat together.” The end.

Sigh.

He gets a fairer shake than Adam Beach did as Slipknot in Suicide Squad, but that’s not saying much. An entire line of origin stories for the Seven would be fantastic and Red Harvest deserves first dibs.

Once they’re together, the chemistry of the cast really shines. There’s just the right amount of one-liners to lighten the mood. At the same time, you’re still not sure these guys won’t shoot each other to pieces given half a chance.

My only complaint came from some of the characters’ motivations. In varying degrees, it seems they’re all after: redemption, money or “a worthy death.” While this works for some of the Seven, it comes off a little thin with others.

All in all, Magnificent 7 is well worth a trip to the theater. The action is epic (and believable), the cast is stellar across the board and the time-honored story is far from tired. It’s everything you want in a western: gunfights, impossible odds, and larger-than-life heroes.

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