Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

September 30, 2016

The Not So Old West: The Magnificent Seven Updated

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Though there were some notable cinematic disappointments to come out of 2016 (I’m looking at you Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), this year we, at least, saw everyone’s favorite regal blue tang overcome her short-term memory loss to be reunited with her family and Ryan Reynolds finally redeem himself from the atrocity that was Green Lantern. After the release of Suicide Squad in August, I was expecting the box office to be relatively light on major blockbuster releases until early November, when Marvel’s Doctor Strange will grace screens. After all, seeing the world get devastated three different times in three different movies (see: Independence Day: Resurgence, X-Men Apocalypse and The 5th Wave) gets cumbersome. Even I, an action movie connoisseur, needed a break from the carnage and violence. But rising up from the dust coming in out of nowhere comes Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, an explosive remake of the 1960 film of the same name (which, in turn, was a remake of the 1959 film Seven Samurai).

I expect that the star power alone will be enough to draw Cornell students out of their problem sets and essays and make the venture out to the Ithaca Mall to see this film. I mean, a movie that stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard?! Count me in. Such a cast like this doesn’t often assemble. But after seeing the film, I can safely say The Magnificent Seven is worth your money and time not just for the power of its cast, but also for the salient themes it addresses and the stereotypes it is able to shatter amidst visceral action sequences. Though it is an action movie, The Magnificent Seven is able to rise above just popcorn entertainment and present a Western that is diverse, thought-provoking and above all, fun.

The film is set against the backdrop of the American Wild West in 1879, focusing specifically on a town called Rose Creek. Though the people there are simple, peace-loving folk, they have labored long and hard to transform the run-down town into a thriving community. Even when they mine and find gold, it is all shared equally. Unfortunately, the discovery of such riches catches the attention of Bartholomew Bogue (portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard), a belligerent, corrupt and egotistical industrialist who storms into the town with guns blazing, intending to claim the treasure. After declaring himself the ruler of the town, he and his group of hired mercenaries brutally slaughter the few brave men who try to stand up to him, and burn down the church, an epicenter of communal life. Bogue rules the town with an iron fist and mercilessly forces the citizens to mine for gold. The people of Rose Creek have never fired guns before, and were hopeless to stop the tyranny of Bogue. Things finally start to look for the better though when a woman of the town, Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett) tries to recruit a group of warriors to help fight against Bogue’s regime. Her first recruit is the bounty hunter Sam Chisholm, portrayed by Denzel Washington, a gruff, no-nonsense and determined warrior. Though it takes some convincing, once he is recruited, other members begin to join like clockwork, and by the first act of the film, Rose Creek has seven diverse, yet nonetheless magnificent heroes.

The plot from there is fairly straightforward: The seven work to train the farmers of Rose Creek into a competent soldiers with a climatic showdown between Bogue’s army and the villagers. But there is a sense of beauty in the simplicity of it all, and the actors and actresses themselves are able to flesh out the characters given to them, even if on paper, they appear to be thinly written. The chemistry between the characters is great, and whether they’re finishing each other’s jokes, or covering each others’ backs, these seven are able to have a brotherly bond even in a short amount of time, with each character also having his own moment to shine in the light individually.

As the straight man, Denzel Washington’s character Sam Chisholm is exceptional. Though not necessarily the most multi-faceted or layered, he is able to rally and inspire characters around him not to give in to the despair. Though he starts off the film only helping Rose Creek for the money that they’ll provide for his services, later on, even when faced with the possibility of death, he refuses to back down. He carries out his commitments to the end.

But the true scene-stealer is Chris Pratt. He couples his Parks and Rec charm with his dynamic Star-Lord fighting style to create Josh Faraday; a jack-of-all trades dual-wielding gambler, who while facetious in “civilized settings,” is nonetheless an efficient warrior and valiant fighter in the heat of battle.

Ethan Hawke, though portrayed as older than most in comparison to the rest of the cast, is able to bring a zealous charisma as Goodnight Robicheaux, a Confederate sharpshooter, still haunted by memories of war. His narrative brings a surprising amount of heart to the film, that is unfortunately lacking in some of the other characters. Byung-hun Lee is likewise a standout as Billy Rocks, a laconic assassin and a knife-wielding expert who dispatches enemies with cruel efficiency. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays Vasquez, a Hispanic outlaw, and though at times cocky, proves himself to be a fierce ally. His braggadocio eventually bleeds over to the other characters. Vincent D’Nofrio plays Jack Horne, a tracker whom Pratt’s character affectionately describes as a “bear in people’s clothes.” His gargantuan frame is indicative of his staunch commitment to God, and the lengths that he will go to protect his comrades. Rounding out the main seven is Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, a comanche Native American warrior who is a master with the bow and arrow. Haley Bennett likewise makes a stunning debut as Emma Cullen, and in the face of battle, is dauntless and stands on her own in firefights.

Unfortunately, most of the character development and screen time is allotted to Washington, Pratt, and Hawke, and my only criticism is balance. I wish that the focus on the characters was more evenly distributed.


Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

But Fuqua is quite the egalitarian when showcasing each of the character’s’ unique fighting styles in the film’s many action sequences. Having only seen The Equalizer, my knowledge of Fuqua’s cinematic resumé was limited going into the theater, but whether he pans the camera so it focuses on the bizarre speed of the endless rounds of a Gatling gun as it tears through edifice and infrastructure, or large, sweeping shots of the seven on horseback as they ride into the sunset, Fuqua shows a meticulous care for detail and grandiose scale.

But in addition to the action and the stars, The Magnificent Seven focuses on this idea of righteousness and revenge, and when one’s pursuit of righteousness straddles a dangerous crossroads with the path for revenge. For Emma Cullen, she seeks righteousness and retribution to the destruction that Bogue has wrought upon Rose Creek, and in the process to get rid of a “monster,” she went out and recruited those who, in many ways, were just as violent as Bogue himself. Anti-heroes litter entertainment screens and the characters of The Magnificent Seven are not squeaky clean individuals either. They too have their flaws. Yet to kill a more opprobrious man, Cullen decided to hire seven that fell below that moral threshold.

But where The Magnificent Seven may fail in its attempts to present virtuous heroes, it succeeds in eliminating racial biases and prejudices. The cast is refreshingly diverse, and since Westerns usually starred Caucasian actors, it is refreshing to see Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and African Americans get assimilated into the canon of the genre. “Foreign characters” such as Red Harvest and Vasquez are portrayed in this film as allies. Fuqua is able to both show the beauty of diversity and the power of unity. To see the seven unite despite their past histories against Bogue, a villain who could represent white imperialism and entitlement, was vindicating. All of the characters had different previous occupations, yet they decided to cooperate for the common good. Though the premise seems foolish (after all, seven, no matter how trained, may find it difficult to stand up against an army), when the dust clears, Fuqua makes it clear that diversity, rather something to be feared, is something to be accepted and actually helps strengthen communities, a timely message given the racial climate today.
Thus, though The Magnificent Seven is a little rough around the edges, if you’re looking for an exciting action film for the colder months, it will shoot straight and ultimately deliver on its promises, much like the characters themselves.

Zachary Lee is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]