It's fun, it's allegorical, and it's not the 1960 version.
The Magnificent Seven
Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day)
Screenplay: Richard Wenk (The Mechanic), Nic Pizzolatta from screenplay by Akira Kurosaw and Shinobu Hashimoto
Cast: Denzel Washington (Training Day), Chris Pratt (Jurassic World)
Runtime: 2 hr 12 min
by John DeSando
“I seek righteousness. But I'll take revenge.” Hayley (Emma Bennett)
Because I contribute to NPR, I am committed to full disclosure: The Magnificent Seven (1960) is my favorite Western of all time. Logically The Magnificent Seven (2016) is not; in fact, as entertaining as it is, it still would not make my top ten.
Considering The New York Times’ claim that Denzel Washington, in the lead gun-for-hire role as Chisolm, is the new Gary Cooper, Washington cuts a mean figure in black (as Yul Brynner did in the original) with an authority to make even James Bond envious.
Chisolm’s six gun-slinging associates should give Hollywood pleasant dreams for their needed diversity: gunfighter Mexican Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); exiled Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier); gambler, sharpshooter Josh (in the Steve McQueen role from the original); close-quarters Korean combat terror Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun); bear-like Jack Horn (Vincent D’Onofrio); and sharpshooter, Goodnight Robicheux (Ethan Hawke), in the cowardly Robert Vaughan role.
As for the big, bad industrialist, Bogue, Peter Sarsgaard plays him like a cross between Brando and Depp having tics and vowels to spare. Really, I wonder of director Antoine Fuqua, who coached Denzel to his Oscar in Training Day, was on the set the days that Sarsgaard was. Sarsgaard is no Eli Wallach (bad Mexican leader in the original)!
It might be obvious from the demands varied and interesting characters give to a story that not enough time may be given to each to have a satisfyingly character-developed story. Such is the case here as only brief back-stories are given to some, and none at all for the others. The most developed is Chisolm, whose interest in saving a small town sinks altruism to a leitmotif of revenge, changing the tone of the story from good guy in a brutal profession into morally-ambiguous guy with vengeance on his mind (see introductory quote for pervasive revenge motif).
The requisite shoot out is overly long and fabulous with a ridiculous number of bad guys the seven kill, until new weaponry changes the game, much as it did in The Wild Bunch. However, this modernization is de rigueur for a story set in 1879, a time when industrialization and modernization were taking the country into a new century.
The escalation of the Vietnam War at the release of the original Magnificent Seven and the recent incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq before this iteration highlight the thematic relevance of outside powers intruding into countries with different cultures. The battles may be won, but the price is daunting.
I’m drifting into allegory when all you may want is to know if the fun Magnificent Seven (2016) keeps the Western genre alive and well. Yes, it does—the film may not be magnificent, but it sure is entertaining, promising more solid Westerns to come.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time