Article by: Anthony Florez
This film is the reason there is such an obsession with guns in this country and I don’t mean that in a political sense. I’m more moderate on the subject, I understand and agree that the 2nd amendment is a critical part of our national identity while, at the same time, I believe in common sense gun control because, let’s face it, some people are dumbshits. I don’t feel the need to own a gun because they make me somewhat uncomfortable even though the few times I have gone shooting I had a good time. But the reason I bring it up is because I truly love Westerns, even mediocre ones and, in the case of this film, when they are done right, guns are so fucking cool. Like, I get it. I want to go running through the middle of a shootout fanning the hammer of Peacemaker in a badass hat and some cowboy boots, I want that all over my face. The Western is one of the few purely American genres, maybe the only one, and The Magnificent Seven is something of a sacred cow in the genre because the original is a classic with an all star cast, and is itself a remake of Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa. Who is basically the Stanley Kubrick but of Japan. So it’s a bold move to try to revisit that kind of pedigree and if I’m rambling and you’re looking for the thumbs up/thumbs down part here you go; it’s a perfectly charming, action-packed film that does exactly what it sets out to do, which is entertain. It does not, however, redefine the genre or take too many any chances with the material.
Chris Pratt is Chris Pratt. Native American man Native Americans real good. Denzel Washington Denzel Washingtons the shit out of the whole damn thing. If there’s a weakness in the cast it’s oddly Peter Sarsgaaaaard who is an exceptional actor but not quite arch-villain material, there’s not really a lot for him to chew on that isn’t completely paint by numbers, which is fine, the story isn’t really about him as much as it is your basic ‘band of misfits must come together to right a wrong’. Also fine. My primary concern going into this movie was whether or not they would understand the genre. There are two basic types of Western that I’ll categorize thusly; you have a John Wayne movie or your Clint Eastwood film. The former is usually about Completely Good Guys versus Completely Bad Guys and is more of an idealistic imagining of the Old West. The latter is more about Bad or Morally Questionable Guy versus Completely Worse Guy, which is probably a more accurate depiction of the time period. The Magnificent Seven has both feet firmly in John Wayne territory even if it’s pretending to be more Clint than it really is and, fundamentally, the genre on either side of the spectrum is about tension, it’s about the threat of violence rather than the constant shooting and punching. Antoine Fuqua seems to mostly understand this even if he also has to fulfill the typical big budget studio requirements of an action beat every ten minutes or so.
Nic Pizzolato (or as my betters over at Pajiba have dubbed him ‘Nicky Pizza’) has had an interesting career so far, he’s a writer I like probably more than he deserves. If that sounds a little harsh, as much as I love the first season of True Detective when it was discovered that he may have plagiarized the language and ideas of writer Thomas Ligetti when creating Rust Cohle’s distincively nihilistic dialogue, I lost a little bit of respect for him for not owning up to it. He ignored and passively denied instead of being an adult and just saying, ‘yeah, sure, his work influenced mine’, end of story. I also really enjoyed most of the maligned second season of the show, despite the pitchforks and torches that came out when it aired so I’m genuinely curious what direction his career will go in. If this film is any indication it’s that I still have no idea, there is none of his bizarre, occasionally brilliant wordsmithing or dark gazes into the human psyche, just a fun, prototypical action-western.
The best thing The Magnificent Seven has going for it is its improbably named cast, as I said earlier Chris Pratt is at his most Prattiest, playing cocksure and smarmy like he was born into it. There are some hints that his character may have some kind of drinking problem but the plot prairie dogs around this before retreating completely from exploring anything approaching depth, which is again, fine, I don’t think the world is ready for Andy Dwyer in Leaving Las Vegas. There is, as the trailer threatened, a Mexican and he is more or less just that. It’s an odd world we live in, or maybe it’s just because I’m in Texas, that just stating the words, “Oh, we have a Mexican” is enough to be considered an adequate punchline in a full theater and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is exactly what you’d expect. Byung Hun Kim’s character is named Billy Rocks and is of Asian descent. That’s really all I got there. Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest is like a Native American warrior that fell out of a collector’s cupboard, complete with painted horse, dead deer and war paint decals. I would say that Vincent D’onofrio is criminally under utilized but that’s true of anything that Vincent D’onofrio has ever been a supporting actor in and here he is typically idiosyncratic and fascinating, even though his character is named Jack Horne, which is not at all phallic. Which leaves me with Ethan Hawke. I like Ethan Hawke a lot, he’s like a guy that was genetically engineered to become a leading man A List actor but that just never came to pass for some reason. Instead he was a successful indie actor in the 90s before disappearing for about a decade and has reemerged as the go-to utility man in all kinds of random films. In The Magnificent Seven he plays a non-accent having Cajun with the unlikely moniker of Goodnight Robicheaux and I use the word moniker instead of name because that’s not a fucking name. He is literally the only character in the entire film that has anything closely resembling a character arc and it’s less an arc than it is the literary equivalent of stubbing your toe on a plot point. But it’s fine.
Then there is Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm. I could write a thesis statement on how many films begin with the premise ‘Someone Fucks With Denzel’ that inevitably ends with the universal truism ‘Do Not Fuck With Denzel’. I don’t know that it’s fair to call him a good actor anymore, I mean, he is. But technically so is Tom Cruise and although they both are A List and now only play essentially invincible badasses with Denzel I believe it. Every time. Some actors are good enough to take what is objectively an okay movie and elevate it with their presence alone, but Denzel is so good that he can star in what is absolutely a bad movie (watch John Q. again and tell me it’s not a caravan of logical ineptitude) and deliver a riveting performance. So where The Magnificent Seven is probably just a pretty good movie it is, the way lobster is a vehicle for clarified butter, really just a vehicle for Denzel to command the screen with his unerring confidence and spectacular delivery. It should also be noted that I got really happy watching Denzel and Ethan Hawke chew some scenery and I couldn’t figure out why for a hot minute before my own brain literally reached around and slapped me upside the head and said, ‘Derp, Training Day, you fritata.’ It was a joy watching these two share the screen again, with Fuqua behind the wheel. It was a nice callback.
So the final verdict is whether or not this is worth seeing in the theater and I’d argue that it absolutely should be, it’s not great but as often stated, it’s perfectly fine. This definitely feels like the kind of movie that most folks are going to wait to rent but I’d argue a lot of the fun of seeing it in the theater is the sound, the real shock of hearing a gun go off. Watching it at home is going to take a lot of that away and without the real power of a gunshot, without the actual scale of every wide open vista the cinematography can produce, the sanitized violence is going to feel even more so, at the expense of a real cinematic experience. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to daydream about shooting guns and come up with my own cowboy name, in case I ever get recruited by a band of ne’er-do-wells. Just kidding, I’ve already come up with one. It’s Count Florez Von HammerBalls.