“The Magnificent Seven”, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is a spirited romp that uses guns, explosions, and mild banter to tell a story that, while entertaining, is only skin-deep.
The film opens in a church, where the townsfolk passionately debate how to deal with a band of outlaws under the control of the the devilish Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Tempers flare but are silenced when Bogue himself charges into the sanctuary and states his ‘deal’ – everyone must sell him their land and leave town. But as they leave the church a few people try to fight back, to which Bogue, operating under the idea that “If God didn’t want them to be slaughtered, he wouldn’t have made them sheep” responds by burning the church and killing anyone who disagreed. Thus leaving Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) weeping over the body of her dead husband.
What results is a search for help, and ultimately, justice. Emma takes all of the money she can muster to the Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a “duly sworn warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas”, in town to score another bounty. Inspired by her determination and her cause, he takes it upon himself to assemble a gang of vigilantes. The first of these in Faraday (Christ Pratt), a wisecracking joker who is as good at shooting as he is mediocre at magic tricks. They join up with the sharpshooter Goodnight (Ethan Hawke), a once-legend who struggles to confront his past. As they make their journey to confront Bogue, they pick up an assortment of fellows including the bear-sized but soft-spoken Jack Horne (Vincent D’onofrio), the skilled outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a mysterious Comanche named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), an assassin capable of winning a gun duel with a throwing knife.
The gang make their way through the countryside toward the town where they take out a small group of outlaws led by the corrupt mayor. Realizing they cannot take on Bogue’s men by themselves, they set to work preparing for the battle and training the now-freed townspeople. As the under-experienced and outnumbered town prepares for a fight, the outlaws approach, building to a battle where the town’s only hope is will, cunning, dynamite and oh-so-many guns.
The film is not without its strengths. The action is sharp and exhilarating, with an impressive degree of variety. From from rifles to bows to axes and knives, the seven mercenaries know how to take someone down. There are strong performances from Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’onofrio, who manages to create an impressively-likeable character. Denzel Washington is a natural as a smart and good-hearted cowboy and Chris Pratt shines in exactly the kind of role he’s made for, bringing humor and boyish charm in a way that manages to stay sincere.
What ultimately fails to satisfy is that the film never tries to rise beyond the surface level of the genre. Based on the 1960 film of the same name, (which itself draws heavily from Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”), it stays true to the classic wild-west posse film with sure-shooting heroes and horseback gun battles, but Fuqua plays it too safe and tells a story that’s neither very original nor difficult-to-predict. It relies on action and light humor while failing to truly say something.
But that’s okay; “The Magnificent Seven” isn’t trying to be an insightful film to wrestle with viewer’s intellect. It’s a modern-day take on the classic cowboy film, with likeable characters, never-stale action, and wild-west spirit. It’s a galloping ride, just don’t expect to be knocked off your saddle.
Matthew Shinkle is a sophomore psychology major and an Arts and Entertainment writer for Cedars. He likes pizza and those rectangle things with the plastic pins that make an impression of your hand.