The western film genre is one that has been dying out over the years. Very few are ever released and the few that are don’t do well at the box office. On top of that it seems only remakes of westerns can leave any kind of impact and as with every single year another well known classic is remade. Such is the case with today’s film The Magnificent Seven. This is something that should have been reviled up to it’s release, something that should have gone quietly as most modern westerns and remakes tend to do. The funny thing with remakes, though, is that if you have very competent people working on them then something, for lack of a better term, magnificent happens.
The story for The Magnificent Seven is one that isn’t new. For the most part it follows it follows it’s predecessor’s basic story closely, adding only a few new things. The funny thing is those few new things end up making a world of difference. The story follows of the people of Rose Creek who are violently being driven from their home by the sadistic Bartholomew Bogue. A citizen of the town Emma Cullen, after witnessing her husband’s murder, goes to hire bounty hunter Chisolm to defeat Bogue. He in turn gather a group of seven hired guns to face off against Bogue’s army. It isn’t a new story, in fact it’s one that isn’t particularly strong, but the film still managed to be very engaging throughout. For one it’s more of a character driven film. We are given time to get to know the citizens of Rose Creek and see the turmoil they are in as Bogue murders a half dozen people and sets fire to the church. We get to feel and sympathize for these characters early which is what initially drew me in. The film is well paced with the seven main characters as it takes it’s time introducing them so that they’re well established, all while never dragging it’s feet. The seven spend the remainder of the film bonding and growing with one another which helps greatly with their character development and made each a likable and memorable addition to the film. They also grow closer to the people of Rose Creek which leads to numerous wonderful and touching moments. Focusing on these characters solely, by having them grow together, makes the final battle all the more dire and nerve wracking as at any moment a character you have come to know and love could be killed. Another thing the film does well are the few things it adds to it’s story. They are rather small but they end up leaving a large impact most notably the film’s tone. The original was very dark and somber, having a bittersweet ending that leaned far to close to bitter, but this film even in it’s darkest moments as an ever present feeling of hope and optimism and in times such as these a little optimism goes a very long way.
The characters for The Magnificent Seven are mostly well made
Of the seven the two with the most focus are Chisolm and Faraday. Both are fine characters due to their personalities, Chisolm being calm and in control and Faraday mostly being a humorous character though at times shows a darker and more violent persona. The work well off of each other as they’re together the longest which leads to many great moments of banter between the two. The problem with these two is that they don’t develop as much as they should. As a group the seven develop splendidly but as individuals there isn’t much to be had.
Goodnight Robicheaux is an interesting character. He’s the best shot of the group however it is made evident early on that he’s haunted greatly by everything he’s done during the Civil War and this internal conflict makes for an engaging character. Alongside him is his friend and cohort Billy Rocks. What makes Billy a good character is his friendship with Robicheaux, it’s clear he cares about his well being and the camaraderie between the two is splendid. Unfortunately, outside of Billy’s unique style of combat, that friendship is all he brings to the table.
Vasquez doesn’t get the attention he deserves. There isn’t much development for him which is a shame because he’s morally different from the others. Vasquez is a wanted criminal who’s sole motivation is that after the battle is done Chisolm won’t go after him. He certainly has his moments throughout as he becomes more selfless and heroic but it would have been nice to have a little more focus on him so that development could have been more evident.
Jack Horne is a hard one to pin down. He has elements of a character that is downright lovable but aspects that are detestable. When he’s first introduced we learn that Horne has killed numerous Native Americans, an aspect that did not sit well with me throughout. There was a chance for the film to explain this horrendous part of his character as he later on beings up that he used to have a family but that statement ends there and goes no further. A firm explanation for what he did isn’t an excuse but it would have been some kind of reason for what he did. As the film went on, though, I found it difficult to hate Horne. He’s a very humorous character who’s kind and generous to just about all he meets. Had he more character development he could have been a very complex character.
Red Harvest, unfortunately, is a very underdeveloped character. His motivation is nonexistent, his introduction quick and rather lazy and he has the least interaction with the other characters. There’s so much that could have been done with this character, even a conflicted relationship with Horne would have made for good story telling and character development. Alas, the only Native American character is the one that gets the short end of the stick. I will say though his name is very brilliant. For those of you who don’t know Red Harvest is the name of a Dashiell Hammett novella that inspired Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo which in turn was remade as A Fistful of Dollars much like the original Magnificent Seven was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Emma Cullen is a very likable character. Cullen is brave, willing to fight Bogue any chance she gets and that bravery as well as he kindness makes for a grand character. She doesn’t get much development but honestly she’s the only character who didn’t need it.
Lastly we have our villain Bartholomew Bogue. Bogue is a surprisingly effective villain. He’s pretty typical for a western villain wanting only land and gold and doing any cruel and vile thing he can to get what he wants as well as being a spineless worm. But somehow Bogue manages to be memorable with his cruelty and sadism making for an intimidating villain, even one as weak such as himself.
Acting for The Magnificent Seven is well done
Denzel Washington gives a good performance as he always does. He’s memorable and fits the role of a leader perfectly. The problem is I felt that Washington’s performance was rather lacking. Again it was fine performance throughout I just felt it wasn’t one of his strongest performances and throughout I felt he could have done more.
Chris Pratt does a fine job as Faraday. Pratt gets to showoff his humor and charm from start to finish and is very compelling. He also gets to show a more serious side, a side that he does very well and even manages to be intimidating. He works well with his co-stars, especially Washington who he has good chemistry with and both work off of one another nicely.
Ethan Hawke does well as Robicheaux. Hawke has a few moments that are absolutely powerful and for brief moments manages to captivate thoroughly. However, there was one moment that wasn’t’ as well done as it should have been, in fact for a few seconds I found myself snickering at a moment that was important for his character.
Byung-hun Lee is memorable even with little to work with. He doesn’t have much dialogue until the third act but still manages to make his presence known with his calm yet daunting demeanor. he manages to shine brightly, though, in the third act alongside Hawke. It’s a shame he doesn’t get to show off his martial arts skills but in the end it was still a good and memorable performance.
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo does well as Vasquez but very little to work with. Garcia-Rulfo has some fine moments of acting but he hasn’t much to go work on. The same, sadly, can be said for Martin Sensmeier who plays Red Harvest. While Garcia-Rulfo has a little something to work with Sensmeier has nothing. He is memorable and I really want to see more of him but he has nothing.
Vincent D’Onofrio comes off as the show stealer. D’Onofrio is very humorous for the most part and stands out the most by trying something different for a change. I found myself enthralled with D’Onofrio’s grand performance more then anyone else’s in this film.
Haley Bennett does a marvelous job as Emma Cullen. Bennett is very convincing in her role and manages to exude sorrow, rage and strength wonderfully through the course of the film.
Peter Sarsgaard does a pretty good job as Bogue. It’s an interesting performance as Sarsgaard perfectly captures Bogue’s cowardice and weak nature all the while still coming off as intimidating and cruel which makes for an interesting juxtaposition.
For the first time I find that I have to bring up the music for the film as this is the final film that composer James Horner made before his tragic death last year. Horner perfectly captures the mood and feeling of a western as his music perfectly fits the tone of any situation the characters find themselves in. His music gives the final battle more energy and urgency and his remaking of the original Magnificent Seven theme is wonderful. A fine final piece from a great composer.
Lastly the action scenes are very well made and largely entertaining. Throughout the film there are a few short gun fights here and there, which in turn helps with the pacing as it adds brief moments of excitement, and each is interesting, different and well made. The final battle is the real show stopper here though. It’s nearly a half an hour of non-stop fighting with so much variety to it with different styles of combat, plenty of destruction and some welcomed moments of stylized action. Director Antoine Fuqua is one that I admire highly with his mostly excellent directing as he crafts an exciting, destructive and emotionally invested final battle. If there is anything to critique it would be that Fuqua seems to be favoring quick cuts far too much. It could be to hide violence so as to achieve a PG-13 rating though he too did the same in The Equalizer. It isn’t bad though as the action cans till be made out and is still a marvel to behold but he is too good of a director to fall for the tropes and editing of far lesser men.
Final Thoughts: Magnificent Seven has it’s share of problems, mostly with some characters and actors not getting the attention they need and deserve, but overall it is a grand and entertaining film. The character driven story allows for emotional depth and investment, the actin is mostly very well done, the action is stupendous and the final score of James Horner is well done. In the end Magnificent Seven is how to do a remake right as it proudly stands on it’s own two feet and shows the world it’s fine merits.