Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is set in a world where even having a drink requires vigilance. The film opens with Bartholomew Bogue’s (Peter Sarsgaard, “Black Mass”) hostile takeover of Rose Creek, a small mining community. This results in the deaths of countless settlers — most notably Matthew Cullen (Matt Bomer, “The Nice Guys”), whose wife, Emma (Haley Bennett, “Hardcore Henry”), later seeks revenge. Unfortunately, tales of such slaughter have always haunted the Wild West. Its inhabitants, such as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington, “The Equalizer”), thus learn to keep their pistols close — especially in seedy bars.
That animalistic anxiety is diminished by the film’s all-star cast. Washington’s character, in an attempt to reclaim Rose Creek, is hired by Emma to assemble an army of misfit killers. This squad includes drunkard Josh Faraday, who’s brought to life by Chris Pratt (“Jurassic World”); Ethan Hawke (“Regression”) taking his turn as the hustling Goodnight Robicheaux; knife-fighting Billy Rocks, played by South Korean sensation Byung-hun Lee (“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”); Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (“Cake”) as Vasquez, a character with no real backstory; skilled tracker Jack Horne, performed by Vincent D’Onofrio (“Run All Night”); and, last but not least, Martin Sensmeier (“Lilin’s Brood”) as Red Harvest, a Comanche archer. While these actors have great chemistry, it’s hard to imagine any of the Magnificent Seven being hurt in a shootout. Has Chris Pratt ever died in a movie?
The Magnificent Seven, although a remake, is, for the most part, a safe ensemble flick. It quickly crowns a leader, has him find other like-minded people — audiences get a glimpse of their personalities through short, often quirky introductory scenes — then this newly-formed gang has their first brawl, which gives everyone a chance to be like, “Oh, so he’s the coward” or “Okay, that’s the character who’s a dick to his team.” After that things settle down, leading to some quiet exposition before erupting into a final set of on-screen explosions. Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote the script, make slight tweaks to that formula, yet their deviations don’t add much emotional depth or meaning to the plot.
There could’ve easily been more substance though. For example, Goodnight is hinted at having Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his days as a Confederate soldier, but unfortunately this aspect of his character is only mentioned so that it could, in the third act, be called upon to propel the story towards its action-packed finale. Furthermore, Faraday’s alcoholism is referenced so frequently that you’d think it’d have some merit to the story, but it never goes beyond some shots of Pratt taking swigs from a prop bottle.
Nevertheless, there are moments that work because of their vagueness. The relationship between Horne, who is rumored to have murdered a slew of Native Americans, and Red Harvest has enough tension to be believable. You can tell that, despite the film’s title’s implied comradery, these are two people who only tolerate one another out of their own abandonment. On the other hand, Billy Rocks and Goodnight feel like genuine pals. Either of those two examples could’ve been expanded into their own 132 minute film.
And while I enjoyed Bennett’s performance as Emma, she could’ve had way more agency to the plot. Obviously this type of story — the damsel in distress rounding up a group of macho men — is going to make her a passive character, but that role still usually involves some kind of development. Emma doesn’t even have the stereotypical job of teaching her male cohorts that dudes with six packs can have feelings too. She’s mostly just a talking head for the trailer’s best line: “I seek righteousness. But I’ll take revenge.”
To keep beating a dead horse (though there are a lot of those in this film already), Bogue is also painfully underwritten. The only time I saw him as a legitimate threat was when he shoots Emma’s husband. That scene, however, is only shocking because Matt Bomer’s a fairly established actor — his check must’ve been hefty. Killing his character in the film’s first five minutes feels like a mistake on the producers’ part.
Ultimately, what’s sad about movies like The Magnificent Seven is that they’re shot through the drone of corporate filmmaking. Every aspect of the eponymous group’s journey feels like it’d been decided upon in a sordid little studio. Or by some focus group which, after being screened “The Avengers,” decided that having the same story, but with cowboys, would’ve been “EPIC!!!” Why couldn’t they instead ask for a film that makes our hearts race like the men in those seedy Wild West bars?