The American West in the last quarter of the 1800s is a cinematic, romanticized period of lawless, vigilante self-righteousness, and the heroes in The Magnificent Seven are good guys with which we can watch a bloodbath of badassery and worry not about moral guilt.
These societal renegades are Western Robin Hoods with moral compasses pointing toward underdogs who cannot fight for themselves. They may be outlaws, but they have principals they will die for.
Released just before the summer’s equinox end, this blockbuster is exactly the easy escapism you hope for in a western shoot-em-up. It’s a remake of an American adaption, so you don’t even have to think about the story. The protagonists are rounded up; they set up a defense of the town; and an army arrives on the horizon with the hubristic idea that the town can be taken from them. You can sit back, relax, and watch some old-fashioned gun violence.
Licensed bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington, who makes lawfulness cool) leads a ragtag posse of shootout boy wonders to save recently widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and her town from being violently taken over by industrial robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). She means vengeance on the goons who killed her husband, and our titular mercenaries are fighting for more than just money.
There’s Chris Pratt-ish Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), conflicted confederate hero Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), burly Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), knife magician Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Comanche omega Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). No character gets introduced without some kind of introductory slaughter. It’s great.
The film is purposefully cast with diversity in mind, an historically accurate choice by Antoine Fuqua to better represent the actual modern-esque diversity of the Wild West. Look up the racial makeup of cowboys: whites were a minority of them. This movie does not solve Hollywood’s racial inclusion problems, but it proves once again that it is racist to assume diverse casting choices will subtract from a film’s attendance or profits.
The golden age of westerns is long behind us, so this obligatory, annual cowboy flick has a rather common-denominator script — though any film designed for a 40-minute battle at the end typically doesn’t come with a philosophically groundbreaking thesis. Regardless, The Magnificent Seven is a mindlessly fun coalescence of impressively violent Old West character archetypes.
Contemptor grade: 8.9