“Magnificent Seven” a Traditional Western For a New Generation
By Skip Sheffield
The first, last and only time I saw “The Magnificent Seven” I was 12-years-old.
Therefore I am ill-prepared to compare the beloved 1960 Western by John Sturges to the 2016 remake by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Olympus Has Fallen”). The new version is a Western on steroids. It begins literally with a bang, with stuff blowing up all over a frontier town called Rose Creek in the year 1879.
The explosions were ordered by a greedy gold mine owner named Bartholomew Bogue, played by a dead-eyed Peter Sarsgaard. Bogue and his goons storm into a church service. Bogue delivers a threatening service equating free-will Capitalism with the love of God. Bogue wants to buy the entire town of Rose Creek so he can strip mine it for gold. He offers residents an insulting $20 each to get out of town.
“You are standing in the way of God,” Bogue thunders. Outside the church he randomly shoots dead a man who dares to protest, rendering his feisty wife, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) a widow.
So it is thoroughly established Bogue is a true villain who deserves to be brought down. But who will have the courage to do it?
Enter Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter (he insists he is a licensed Federal Marshal). Chisholm is dressed in black, riding a black horse. He swaggers into the local saloon. The music stops and everyone turns to stare. Chisholm intimidates the bartender and it doesn’t go well. Soon there is a blaze of gunfire and it is established Chisholm is one bad hombre and a quick, deadly shot.
There are many familiar Western conventions given the nod. Chisholm is the lone fearless stranger. Washington plays the character with quiet, steely resolve, quite admirably filling the boots formerly worn by Yul Brynner. When the widow Cullen offers Chisholm a bag of money that is all the town has to offer to fight back at Bogue, Chisholm replies, “I am not for sale.”
Emma Cullen is very persuasive however, and it doesn’t hurt she sure is purdy. So Chisholm reluctantly agrees to form a posse and fight back. He has three weeks to prepare for the big showdown.
The big change from the 1960 movie is the racial diversity of Chisholm’s gunslingers. Washington is African American. His right-hand man is hard-drinking card sharp Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt). Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is a Cajun former Confederate soldier. Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a bible-quoting bear of a man who carries a scalping hatchet. Billy Rocks (Byong-hun Lee) is a diminutive Asian man with a deadly assortment of darts, swords and knives. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche Indian played by a real Native American. When he runs out of arrows, he is a deadly shot.
Like so many Westerns before it, everything leads up to a big showdown. With spectacular stunts and CGI-augmented mayhem, the big payoff is noisier and more violent than ever. I have been a fan of Westerns since I was a kid; therefore I am gratified to see a new generation take a whack at the genre. I fear most people don’t feel the way I do, but the box office will tell. In the end Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 “Seven Samurai” still rules.