Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven (MGM and Columbia Pictures)
The Magnificent Seven (MGM and Columbia Pictures)

★★★☆

A movie as straightforwardly enjoyable as the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven would seem impervious to deeper contemplation.

It’s like a film version of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: reliably good to the point of inherent implication. Ironically though, the most peculiar observation I had while watching Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is how alike and at the same time dissimilar it is to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Both films were made by directors who specialize in gritty action movies, both are about a team of extraordinary fighters working together for a common good, and both are reliant primarily on action and small bits of comedy.

But where Suicide Squad was poisoned by a lethal cocktail of ineptitude and poor writing, limping to the finish line through the help of a handful of solid performances and an upbeat soundtrack, The Magnificent Seven is graced with a no-nonsense screenplay from True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, enjoyable performances from pretty much everyone in the cast, and consistently solid direction from Fuqua.

The plot of the film is about as simple as they come. Serving as a remake to Jim Sturges’  1960 classic, which was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s immortal Seven Samurai, this iteration puts a spin on the original formula. Instead of defending a poor village from a group of bandits, the titular seven mercenaries are this time charged to defend a small western town from being driven from their land by an army led by evil mining tycoon Bartholomew Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Bogue, who is not a very subtle antagonist, justifies his actions through a warped philosophy of capitalism and Christianity. That’s all there really is to it.

There’s some pretty engaging gunfights, a gigantic final blowout in the climax where the seven and the townspeople have to eliminate the entire tycoon’s army, which, unlike the Sturges or Kurosawa versions, contains far more than just 40 men, but most of the film adheres pretty strictly to formula. There are very few surprises, and you can tell pretty much right off the bat which of the seven are going to live and which are going to die.

What makes the film work is the chemistry between the seven mercenaries, the sharp writing from Pizzolatto, the superbly directed action by Fuqua, and the solid performances from all of the main cast. Unlike Suicide Squad, where the writing scrambled desperately to grant even the slightest levels of dimension to the titular squad, the concise yet effective screenplay and the energetic performances of the actors in The Magnificent Seven communicate to us all their individual motivations and three-dimensional personalities with ease and confidence.

Denzel Washington has the lead in the Takashi Shimura/Yul Brynner role, and is pretty much doing the same benevolent badass routine that he’s been making work for the past decade. It again works in this film, thanks to more dimension than usually found in those types of characters. All of the seven are a welcome sight on screen, but the primary standout roles are Denzel as the lead, Chris Pratt as a wisecracking gambler (again continuing his incredible hot streak of uplifting the quality of every movie he’s in), Ethan Hawke as an ex-Confederate sharpshooter, and Byung-hun Lee as a Chinese gunslinger and knife expert. Hawke is especially compelling in his role as a man trying to ease his conscience from the lives he took in the war, and it’s a sound reminder of how captivating he can be when given the right role.

The Magnificent Seven is a pretty straightforward and formulaic movie. But it’s one that’s executed so well in almost every aspect that you actually start to forget that and remember that just because a movie is simple, doesn’t mean it has to be stupid. I was thoroughly entertained watching it, and although it’s a bit short of a classic, it’s a pretty solid little film in its own right. Definitely worth checking out.

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