Summer Brooks: Full disclosure: The Magnificent Seven is my all-time favorite Western, and given how much I enjoy the genre and how many masterpiece films have been made in that genre, that’s saying a lot.
Gini Koch: My full disclosure: The Magnificent Seven TV show is why I started writing, and I love Westerns of all kinds, including space (yes, I’m a Browncoat). So, yeah, I had high hopes and expectations going into this movie. Plus, as anyone who’s read any of my reviews knows, I’m all about the visuals. And this cast is damned pretty.
SB: I had reservations when I heard it was being remade. I’m not fond of remakes, especially when it seems like every movie being remade was one I’d already seen in theaters 30 years ago. It’s a tiresome pattern, but now and then, a remake or reimagining comes along that is able to stand on its own while still honoring the foundation – and perhaps larger shoulders – of the film that came before it.
GK: As I said for my reviews of Ghostbusters and Ben-Hur, I don’t mind remakes. IF they’re enjoyable, IF they tell the story a little differently, and IF they’re a worthy addition. It’s easy to remake mediocre films and this is why the Clooney Ocean’s films are such fun – they took mediocre material and uplifted it. But the original Magnificent Seven is pretty excellent already. Would this be Vince Vaughn’s pointless Psycho remake, or something better?
Well, as far as I’m concerned, this movie hit it out of the park. Or, in the vernacular, it’s a long drink of water.
The movie soundly follows all the standard Western beats. It starts with us seeing the decent, downtrodden townsfolk – yes, a mostly white town instead of a Mexican village and it makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons – who are being systematically destroyed by a robber baron, this one a gold mine owner, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard excellently doing villainy personified).
The details are key here – we see Bogue’s name all over. The town, the mine, etc. We know he owns the law before he shares that he does. It’s obvious anywhere you look. We know he’s powerful even before anyone speaks.
And the townspeople are speaking. They’re having a town meeting in the church, which Bogue and his men interrupt, disrupt, and then destroy. Yes, he burns a church down in the first five minutes. Yes, this is a true Western Villain. But it works.
Among those townspeople are Matthew (Matt Bomer) and Emma (Haley Bennet) Cullen. Despite Emma trying to get him to stay quiet, the brutal treatment and the burning of the church force Matthew to speak out. And he’s murdered by Bogue in cold blood, in the middle of the street, surrounded by witnesses, as are several others.
We move to a different town, where a man in black, Chisolm (Denzel Washington) rides in, dispenses some fast draw justice, and meets gambler Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt) who’s backed him, even though Faraday does his best not to let on that he has. Emma, accompanied by Teddy Q (Luke Grimes), is in town looking for help, has seen what Chisolm’s done, and appeals to him for assistance. He’s unwilling to get involved until she mentions Bogue and Chisolm goes from “not my job” to “what’s the pay?” Yes, there’s history there that, thankfully, is not told to us in flashback, but comes out naturally as the movie progresses.
Chisolm recruits Faraday, then they go in search of others to help, gaining Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), wanted Mexican criminal Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), former trapper and Indian hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), and sort of renegade, sort of cast-out Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). And then it’s time to save the town, not once, but twice. Or die trying.
The acting is all, ahem, magnificent. Everyone is their character, resisting tics and traits used in other movies, for which much credit undoubtedly goes to director Antoine Fuqua. The sets feel real, the historical inaccuracies are few to none, and the cinematography is fantastic. This reminded me a lot of Silverado, in all the good ways.
SB: This updated Magnificent Seven has a lot to offer moviegoers. I may be biased because I truly am a sucker for a Western, but these seven heroes all acted like they had lived full lives before coming together on this quest, and expected to continue those lives after this one adventure ended. I do wish a little extra time had been spent getting to know a little bit more about those lives, but it’s a just a nitpick for me. There’s almost no backstory on the villain, and I think that detracts from his ability to shine. Make no mistake, he’s Bad GuyTM all the way through, but compared to the Seven and some of the townspeople, he seems not to match up in depth.
GK: Oh, I disagree. Well, about the villain. I think Sarsgaard did a LOT with his villain. He’s all about “democracy is capitalism and therefore, as a businessman, my way is more important than your way.” He’s chilling in how little he cares about what he does. I could have done without a couple of what I call the “See? I kill my own men,” stuff but honestly that’s what’s expected from a Western Villain. He’s nuanced enough for the role, which is to be evil in a way that you know anyone wearing a suit and tie in a big city would find totally acceptable.
Totally agree about the other characters being fully fleshed out “real people” when we meet them, and continuing to be so all the way through the movie. Which also, thankfully, resisted giving Emma a new love interest. Emma is brave and spunky and feminine, but she’s still grieving and while her obvious suitor is called out by the Seven, that’s also clearly going to be down the road.
SB: However, the battle scenes in this version more than make up for a few minor character and story shortcomings. If anything the main battle involves more realistic preparation on behalf of the heroes and the townspeople, and in the scenes during the main battle where we see the cost of choosing to stand up and fighting for what’s right and of continuing to fight even when you see that cost is dear.
GK: Yes, can’t say enough about how well the battle and gunfight scenes are done. And all without a lot of ridiculous handheld camera crap, meaning we actually get to see the battle and gunfight scenes.
Be warned – the violence feels very real, and people die on screen. Be also warned – in regards to dying, this movie takes its cues from both Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and the original Magnificent Seven movie, not the TV show. As in, expect characters you love to die in front of you. Often.
I also need to note that everyone clearly took riding lessons. I know how to ride and I can tell when an actor is terrified and unknowing on the back of a horse, and when that horse is being led by someone off-camera because its rider is useless. Everyone looked natural on the horses, which is hugely key in a Western. They also slept against the saddles, which is also something that was done and one of those little historical touches that elevated the movie.
SB: For me this is a satisfying story, and well-executed Western that I wish could have been nudged a teensy bit further towards great.
That said, the biggest, glaring thing missing from this film was the music, or more importantly connecting the music with the characters. In the original film, John Sturges tasked Elmer Bernstein, who in turn may have composed one of the most evocative, emotional and majestic scores of that era (of note, the American Film Institute has it as #8 on their Top Ten Movie Scores of all time, and I would not argue that). The Seven have their theme, the villain Calvera has his own theme, and even the village and the battles have their own themes.
This remake is missing that element, and I can only guess that the biggest reason for a diminished musical connection is a result of the sudden and untimely death of film composer extraordinaire James Horner, who died in June 2015 when the small plane he was piloting crashed. His work on the film’s score was incomplete, but his friend producer/composer Simon Franglen took the work that Horner had finished and went from there.
The iconic main theme is only heard for a few seconds at the end, and for me it wasn’t enough. It doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the movie, but I almost wish I could watch the new movie while having the soundtrack from the 1960 movie playing along.
GK: You know, I kind of agree about the music and I kind of don’t. I mean, I love the theme song, I could listen to it over and over again. The issue with the music is that it’s so iconic that it could have easily taken away from THIS movie. Oh, they’re playing “the theme”, that means they’re relying on it. I enjoyed the score that we got, and also enjoyed the little bit of the original theme that they gave us at the end. It was plenty, the homage, if you will, and I don’t think the film suffers at all without the iconic theme playing over and over.
For me this was a great movie, hitting all the points I wanted hit. It being loaded with great looking leading men was not a hindrance to my enjoyment, either. Basically, I’m taking my mum to this as soon as possible and getting this the moment it comes out on BluRay. Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is a worthy remake and an excellent movie in its own right. Expect to see this on my Top 10 list for 2016.
Rating: Gini Koch – 5 Stars; Summer Brooks – 4 Stars; Score: 4.5 Stars
With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople, led by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenwriters: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk, based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Producers: Roger Birnbaum, Todd Black
Music: James Horner, Simon Franglen
The Magnificent Seven
Two reviewers with exacting tastes who are fans of Westerns watch a remake of a long-established classic not just of the genre but of film in general. The verdict? A fine remake that stands on its own.