RECAP: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven (2016): Antoine Fuqua

Fifty-six years after the original American adaptation of Seven Samurai, Antoine Fuqua reteams with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, the pair he directed in Training Day.

Fuqua takes the tale of American gunslingers and moves it north of the Mexican border, to a beleaguered town called Rose Creek.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Seven gunslingers gather to guard a western town from a dastardly, so dastardly villain.

Hero (6/10)

Denzel Washington plays Chisolm, a duly sworn warrant officer, licensed in seven states, as he declares often in The Magnificent Seven.

Few actors working today can portray suaveness, calm, and strength like Washington, and all three traits are vital to his character in this film. We first meet him in another western town, where he walks into a saloon through swinging doors. What western character, bad or good, hasn’t done that before?

Chisolm needles the bartender, first for a drink, second for information about a guy named Painted Dan, or some such silly name. Turns out that the barkeep is that guy. But Chisolm knew it. Yeah, he knew it, because he ends up shooting him in the chest, but not before shooting the gun hand of another bar patron and the legs on a chair of a guy sitting behind him. For Chisolm, such shootouts are all in a day’s work.

The kind folks of Rose Creek, led by the bereaved Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), request Chisolm’s services in opposing the gold miner eager to swipe their land for a pittance. Cullen and the town have gathered everything to buy Chisolm’s services for a few days. “I’ve been offered a lot before,” Chisolm says, “but never everything.” He agrees.

Chisolm assembles the other members of the Magnificent Seven with a matter-of-fact ease. His reputation precedes him, it seems, because no one argues a wit, even when Chisolm sends others to do the asking for him.

Denzel melds in amongst his costars, men who have long, established careers (and the ascending star of Chris Pratt). Chisolm is an organizer in The Magnificent Seven, and you get the sense that Denzel was ready to shoot one take and no more. (He’s good enough to make a living that way, though.)

Chisolm is not scared to face his enemies alone. He is the lone rider to stroll into Rose Creek and face down Bogue’s hired guns. Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is also there, but he doesn’t ride. Later, the duly sworn warrant officer rides alone through town when Bogue sends his army, and he stands alone to gun down Bogue on the steps of the church.

Why does he take the job? Chisolm’s motivation is not announced until he faces Bogue on Rose Creek’s church altar. “Should I know you?” Bogue asks. “You should know me by your obituary,” Chisolm answers.

What Bogue tried to accomplish in Rose Creek he had succeeded in Chisolm’s home town. He murdered Chisolm’s sisters and strung a rope around his neck. The hero was prepared to die in Rose Creek, but only if Bogue died, too.

Villain (3/10)

Peter Sarsgaard menaces Rose Creek as gold mine owner Bartholomew Bogue. Long time viewers of Sarsgaard know him as a wan-smiling weirdo capable of ruining any venture you try. In The Magnificent Seven he tries ruining his biggest venture yet–an entire town.

Bogue (as close to “bogey” as the screenwriters felt comfortable with) owns a gold mine in the mountains surrounding Rose Creek. The movie opens with deafening explosions from the mines that spoil Rose Creek’s idyll. Bogue cares nothing about the townsfolk.

Like the 1960 original (“original” used loosely), the film introduces its villain before its heroes. Rose Creek’s residents assemble in their church to discuss standing up to Bogue. The only town resident making money from the mine is the brothel owner, an aging man eager to make peace with Bogue.

The rest of the knows it must act, but how? Before finding an answer, enter Bogue. He kicks in the church door. Four of his hired guns surround the pews. Bogue need not speak a word to unnerve the townsfolk. He need only shake a jar.

Bogue ascends the pulpit to address his lessors. He bemoans the people who speak against him. He makes a funny argument in which he equates America to democracy, capitalism, and God, saying that opposing him is to oppose God. It’s the circular logic that can’t be argued against easily unless taken wholly.

Bogue shakes his jar, says that what’s in it will be all the town thinks of in coming years. “Your children will be consumed by it,” he says. Bogue asks a boy to join him and reach into the opaque Mason jar. The child shakes, but he obeys, blindly squeezing his hand into the jar. He pulls out…dirt.

Land. That’s all Bogue wants. And for $20 per person he’ll buy out the whole town, a town built by the hands of those sitting in the church that they probably also built. They protest. Bogue cares not and leaves, giving them three weeks to decide.

Outside the church, a man named Matt Cullen speaks against Bogue. Bogue kills him. In front of everyone. One of his goons throws an axe into a woman’s back. Bogue goes to Sacramento. For Rose Creek, this is the final straw.

Sarsgaard is not a physically menacing choice for western villain. Looking at him, you worry he’s jaundiced or suffering withdrawals. But he’s a fine actor who pours his malice into the role of Bart Bogue. He murders one of his aides, and he watches the murder of Rose Creek’s residence with boredom. We do not fear Bogue, only the men he can hire.

Turns out that he tried the whole town murder thing on Chisolm’s town a few years back. Bogue forgot, but Chisolm didn’t. The power, or curse, to remember past wrongs drove Edmond Dantès, also known as The Count of Monte Cristo. Bogue made Chisolm, a skill of the greatest villains.

Sadly, The Magnificent Seven has no room for great villains, only multitudes of heroes.

Action/Effects (7/10)

When the Seven first saunter into town, they meet an unwelcoming committee. Blackstock company men. “Cowards, back shooters,” Chisolm dubs them.

Oh hey, there’s the sheriff, the most nervous of anyone in town. He asks Chisolm and Billy Rocks to hand over their guns, ’cause they ain’t allowed in Rose Creek.

The Blackstone guys are snooty and tough, until they find out that they’re surrounded, and from an elevated position. The lead thug smirks, recognizes the trouble, but won’t back down.

A comanche named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) starts the killing by shooting two arrows into two men. That doesn’t immediately start the shootout, telling much about how accustomed to murders these men are.

OK now they shoot out. Chisolm spins and shoots three in different directions. All hits. Faraday pops two guys standing on the balcony above him. Billy Rocks uses his knives to kill a pair. Jack Horne (possible bear Vincent D’Onofrio) chucks an axe into a guy’s chest and leaps onto a guy on horseback. Not bad for a “bear wearing people clothes.”

Just like that the fight’s over. The Seven kill 24 men without taking a single wound. They entice the lone survivor, the dirty sheriff, from his hiding place. He leans on the rule of law, saying he’s an elected officer. “Consider this a recall,” Chisolm says with iron resolve.

Fuqua shows just enough of the Seven’s skills in this scene to set up for the bullet-soaked finale. We learn what the men are good at and how good. The answers are: “killing,” and “very.”

The crew must have set records for blanks usage. But, adhering to standards of the western genre, almost no blood is seen. Historically, I can buy this. Cowboys often wore layers of dark clothes, and the rounds of the day were far from the hollow-point or armor-piercing rounds a Terminator or Rambo might use, so we should not expect a Freddy-level gore fest. Nevertheless, possibly one hundred people died in this movie, and little (fake) blood is spilled.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Faraday (Pratt): Pratt nearly steals the spotlight from Denzel, getting nearly as many lines and an equal share in origin story. Faraday is present in the saloon when Chisolm arrives to arrest Dan the Bartender. He’s the only person not to leave the saloon when Chisolm scatters them to fetch the sheriff.

Faraday wanders the town and is greeted by a couple of brothers from whom he stole money back in the day. Stole/won at poker…po-tay-to/po-tah-to. An overly long sequence ends with Faraday using a sleight of hand card trick to distract the two brothers, killing one and shooting the other’s ear off.

Pratt got on board to bring comedic heat, exactly as Horst Buchholz did in the 1960 version. Pratt achieves this through volume and contrast, cracking wise amongst hard men. He’s an excellent shot, but everyone is an excellent shot.

I like Pratt and his brand of comedy. That’s all I can say his role. If you don’t like him, you’ll cringe when he’s on screen.

 

Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo): Vazquez is an outlaw staying in a cabin in the woods. In true horror-movie fashion, there’s a dead guy in it, but Vazquez claims the body was dead when he got there. At least it doesn’t snore.

Vazquez ropes Emma Cullen and draws his revolver on Chisolm. Before this turns into an Eli Roth film, Chisolm lays out what he’s doing there and what he’ll do about it. “Join me and I’ll tear up this warrant,” Chisolm basically says. Who would say no?

Vazquez is the least developed of the Seven. Someone has to bite that bullet, so to speak.

Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier): Red Harvest is the last to join the group. Chisolm and the others find him wandering the chalky hills near Rose Creek, riding a horse with a dead buck draped over it.

Chisolm approaches Red and prevents the others from killing him. Red was ejected from his Comanche tribe, told to go his own path. Of course, the other guys are going their own paths, and all those paths appear to have converged beside a cliff on the way to Rose Creek. This scene marks my favorite exchange, when Denzel asks Sensmeier if he speaks “white man’s English.”

Red Harvest wears red paint on his head and a mohawk haircut. (I don’t know if the Mohawk and Comanche were in contact, so I can’t say how a Comanche would feel about sporting a “mohawk” haircut.) Red is equally comfortable in war paint as not, and he would rather use a bow but is fine with the white man’s gun.

Red Harvest has the fewest lines of the Seven, partly because he was the last to join the group, and partly because he only spoke “some” English. That was a shame, because I’m sure he had the most to say.

Horne (D’Onofrio): No character is weirder than former Indian hunter Jack Horne. Surviving his days in a hodgepodge plains cabin, Horne once made a living killing Native Americans for the furthering of the United States’ westward expansion. Now he works with a Comanche.

D’Onofrio might not have known he was in a movie. He mutters, and he stumbles across the set like, as Faraday notices, a bear. You get the feeling he might tumble at any moment.

But Horne doesn’t, instead proving an excellent killer. He can shoot a gun, like any soul in the West, but he seems to prefer axes. Bears excel at close combat, after all. Horne is the kind of man that would become a legend were he a real person. His death is the most dramatic, taking four arrows before dying, and trying to reach out and grab his killer, or use Force powers to draw him within killing range.

Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke): Funny how the dude playing a Comanche is an actual Native American, but is named Martin, and the dude named Hawke is a WASP. Or maybe he’s not. I don’t know. Just a silly observation. Moving on…

What characters come more fantastically named that Goodnight Robicheaux? “Goodie” to his friends, Robicheaux (obviously) hails from Louisiana. He fought for the Confederacy as a sniper, killing 23 Union Grays at Antietam.

Pretty good record for a guy who can’t fight anymore. When given his first chance in years to shoot a man, Goodie chickens out. He’s meant to back up his buddies on the dusty streets of Rose Creek, but when the guns start shooting, he can only back away and breath heavily. That’s called PTSD, but in the 19th century they would call it cowardice.

Goodie flees on the eve of the final battle, only to return the next day in mid-fight to warn his brethren that Bogue is about to cut them down with a Gatling gun.

A notorious drunk and party animal, Goodie’s best friend and business partner Billy Rocks knew why he returned to fight: he left behind his flask. Robicheaux speaks the movie’s best line. He leads a cohort of townsfolk in target practice, and they are the sorriest bunch of sons of bunches he’s ever seen. Can’t hit nothing. Goodie explodes at them. “YOU GOTTA HATE, WHAT YOUR FIRING AT.” We believe him.

Goodie becomes the voice of narration, purely by accident. As the hodgepodge posse of castaway do-gooders rides toward Rose Creek, Goodie jokes with the crew, laying out how strange a team they are–Comanche, “Texican,” man from “the Orient,” and more. “This is not going to end well,” he says. Nailed it.

Billy Rocks (Lee): Goodie’s business partner, Rocks hails from Asia, it is not stated whereabouts, and he’s landed in the American West.

We meet Rocks when Faraday goes to recruit him and Robicheaux. Rocks is locked in a sporting duel with a random gunslinger. First to shoot the cup beside the other is the winner. A third party/judge fires a gun, and the two men shoot. The judge declares Rocks the winner, and the aggrieved party demands to play again, but to make it count.

Faraday, interest piqued, watches Rocks remove his gun belt and hat. Holding his hair in place is a metal rod, and on the second “draw” gunshot, Rocks throws the hair pin into his opponent’s chest.

The West’s quickest draw, Rocks uses his throwing skills to set himself apart. In the opening skirmish against Bogue’s payroll, a quick shot places a camera directly behind Rocks as he throws two knives into two men. The camera’s line of sight is aligned with the flight paths of the blades, allowing us to see how fast they travel away from our point of view.

Rocks is a knife wizard, and he cuts down a dozen men by literally cutting them down. Slash and stab is his technique, and his skill with a gun is nothing to sneer at either.

Emma Cullen (Bennett): Bennett plays bereaved Rose Creek resident Emma Cullen, who watched Bogue murder her husband in the opening sequence.

Cullen hires the gunslingers and wants to be one of them. She has the shooting skill, as shown in a scene in which Faraday tries to advise her, but she won’t listen, because she needs no advice. She offers to assume Robicheaux’s sniping role when the Civil War vet flees on the eve of battle.

The film hints at making her a love interest. Faraday shows most of the interest, but Cullen won’t allow it. And thank goodness. How insulting would it be to have this woman, who watched her husband die, fall for a dashing man like Faraday. Wouldn’t happen, and credit to Fuqua for not letting it.

All the magnificent gunslingers brought different skills and backgrounds to form a team of incomparable skill. That’s the film’s true message–teamwork pays off, regardless of background, but only if it’s players can work together.

Henchmen (0/8)

The Magnificent Seven is a two-hour film with, like, eighty-six or so heroes. The villain appears in three or four scenes and has few lines. It follows that the henchmen get less screen time.

And they do. Aside from the Comanche that kills Horne and succumbs to Red Harvest, all Bogue’s hired guns are indistinguishable cowboy dudes with dust jackets and grim faces.

And that’s it. Bogue’s people are there to shoot and to die.

Stunts (5/6)

Uncountable rounds were spent making the final battle scene. And “battle” is the correct word, even for a western. A cannon, landmines, a machine gun, a grenade, cavalry charges, snipers–that’s all in the finale. Billy Rocks’s blade work was technically difficult, and try riding on the side of a horse and shooting, as Denzel’s stunt double, does.

There’s enough explosive work to keep stunt teams busy for a decade, but they got it all shot in a couple of months.

Climax (5/6)

The moment Rose Creek’s waited for comes. Much of the second act is spent preparing the men and women and the town’s defenses for the climactic battle.

Bogue arrives with ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred guys. Seriously, it’s hard to tell how many men ride with the villain, but I guessed 80 to 100.

The cavalry spread out in the fields outside of town, showing their strength, with Bogue in the center, calmly and historically smoking a cigarette. He asks his Comanche henchman to sound the charge, and he does.

Most of the riders gallop toward the town. The line breaks into two groups. The heroes are ready. Horne, sitting with masked men in a hastily dug trench, counts down.

In slow motion the riders cross a line of red-painted pinwheels. Horne mashes the plunger. We see, from the roof of a building in town, the first tremendous explosion. Then another. There’s enough smoke to obscure everything less than ten yards from the blast zone, so we can’t tell how many men died. One guess: a lot.

The second bad guy line rides through the tents outside of town. The townies surprise them with shots from the canvas and well placed ropes that trip the horses and their riders. The farmers can’t shoot for shit, so they kill ’em with pitchforks and hoes.

The men in the trenches alongside Horne pop out and shoot. Now the good guys start suffering casualties. I don’t think they shot anyone. Horne does. He uses his guns and his bladed weapons.

Chisolm, watching the first round of attacks, retreats into town. The remains of the dynamited group enter town, and the duly sworn warrant officer shows off his stuff. Chisholm kills men on horseback by shooting forward, backward, on either side, even from the horse’s side.

Faraday, hiding in an outlying building, pops out and shoots his pistols before retreating into a hiding spot, where he waits and blows a third dynamite cache.

So far so good. A few townsfolk are dead, but the Seven have not been harmed yet. Faraday aims for a bottle hanging on the shack where he initially hid, shoots it, and it explodes, killing/maiming several.

That’s about all the dynamite they have, so it’s down to bullets. Cullen and several others lie behind sandbags on the saloon’s second-floor balcony. She hits some guys, but does anyone else?

Red Harvest, running across rooftops, arrows bad guys. Still, the Seven are all fine. It’s a shooting gallery in town, as Chisolm wanted. Spikes and burning hay serve to trap Bogue’s riders and funnel them toward the church’s burned husk.

Chisolm does most of the damage from his horse. He bursts out through the restaurant’s frontage and tramples a baddie to death. With his guns, all he need do is pull the trigger, because he doesn’t miss. He shoots a guy standing behind him without looking at him.

Faraday finally gets shot. He meets Chisolm, who asks how he’s doing. Faraday chokes out, “So far, so good.”

Horne, who has killed men with their own guns, leads many into a barn. The townsfolk open the door and blast a half dozen men on horseback with a scatter cannon.

The good guys are doing very well, but Bogue appears nonplussed by all this. He calls for “the wagon,” which turns out to carry a Gatling gun. Bogue’s saved about a dozen men to protect it and himself.

Most of the surviving shooters assemble in the church. Several bad guys, still horsed, are outside, but crafty townsfolk have used spikes and wagon carts to fence them in the area immediately outside the church’s front door.

That gun opens up. It’s trouble. Cullen is the only person at the saloon to survive the Gatling. The bullets knock free a lamp lighting the town store, which ignites the wooden floor protecting the children hiding beneath it. Every person waits until the bullets are spent.

Chisolm and Faraday, after the Gatling quiets, run to rescue the kids. They lead them to flee through the fields and to safety.

That’s great, but meanwhile, Horne is killed by Bogue’s Comanche in a cowardly, cowardly way. (I guess. The movie tries to make it seem so. Horne is shot with four arrows.)

Billy Rocks and Goodnight Robicheaux climb to the reinforced church bell tower. Vazquez is in the church. Chisolm and Faraday are hiding by the coffins. Horne is dead. Red Harvest is in the saloon.

Cullen has retreated to the saloon and is pursued by the bad Indian. She still has a pistol, and pulls the trigger one, two, three, four, five times. All chambers empty. The Comanche has his tomahawk and knife.

Red Harvest shows up behind him with the same weapons. He slashes the bad guy’s arm and chest before plunging his knife into his gut. Cullen won’t watch. Red says to the Comanche enemy, “You’re a disgrace.” I can only think that he believed him a disgrace for helping the White Man steal more land.

The Gatling gun opens up again. “We’re even for the horse,” Chisolm says, referring to Faraday’s horse that Chisolm bought earlier. They need to silence that gun. Faraday says that Chisolm owes him something, though. “Cover.”

What’s more American western than a lone gunslinger riding into a hail of bullets? Faraday takes a horse and charges the Gatling gun. He’s shot many, many times. His brothers-in-arms snipe pursuers, but they can’t touch the men manning the Gatling.

Faraday slumps from the horse and crawls toward the gun. From his knees he struggles to light a cigarette, can’t do it. A patch-wearing bad guy offers a light. Faraday smiles and keels forward. He’s dead.

Nope. He pops up with the last stick of dynamite. A lit stick of dynamite. “Always was lucky with one-eyed jacks,” Faraday says as he tosses the stick. BOOM. Gun’s dead.

But Bogue ain’t. He and two others ride into town. Chisolm makes quick work of the two nobodies. Bogue and Chisolm show down.

Chisolm easily wins a draw. Bogus is shot but scurries into the church, reaching the platform that once held the pulpit. He fears Chisolm, but still can’t recall him. That’s when the duly sworn warrant officer drops a truth bomb: Bogue killed his family and tried to kill him, and Chisolm has the rope scars on his neck to prove it.

Before Chisolm exacts his revenge, Bogue struggles to draw out the tiny pistol lodged in his boot. He takes the time to cock the gun, and then we hear a bang. Chisolm is confused. The camera reveals that Cullen has shot Bogue. Did she see the gun? Doesn’t matter. She wanted him dead. She took her revenge.

Jokes (2/4)

Only Faraday makes any jokes. He’s trying a little too hard. For some reason he tells a bad guy that he was murdered by “the world’s greatest lover.” I’m still deciding whether or not that worked.

Setting (3/4)

The Western was set in a beautiful mountainous landscape is as cliche as the Showdown and the Ride Into Sunset.

Well, the Western was set in a beautiful mountainous landscape. North of Flagstaff, Arizona, you’ll find the San Francisco Peaks, or, as the Navaho call them, “the summit which never melts.” And they don’t in The Magnificent Seven.

With cool rivers and white-barked aspen trees, how could you not want to stop in Rose Creek for a drink, a week, a lifetime? Bogue wants the town as well, not for its land but what’s under it.

Commentary (1/2)

The 2016 update brings The Magnificent Seven north of the border, far north, and into what appears to be Colorado. The townsfolk are white, but their saviors are as representative of America as any movie group in history.

Except they’re all men. Representative of male America. Here’s the breakdown of America in the 2010 census: white (64%), Latino (16%), black (12%), Asian (5%), American Indian (<1%). Here are the Magnificent Seven: white (43%), Latino (14%), black (14%), Asian (14%), American Indian (14%). That’s pretty close, eh?

But the race breakdown should measure the actual west. Probably it did a great job. In 1879, the Homestead Act remained in effect, and about anyone who wasn’t a member of the Confederate Army could participate. The Magnificent Seven surely hits closer to the mark than many westerns of old.

Policers of the PC Police won’t like the casting, but recall that there were 100,000 Chinese Americans in 1880, tens of thousands of Comanche, and that much of the American West was a Mexican possession until 1848. I’m saying the Old West probably didn’t resemble Iowa Falls.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Consider that all three white guys died in the final battle. The characters do not remark upon this fact. They never discuss race at all. The gunslingers of The Magnificent Seven are more diverse can care less about it than modern America.

Only one woman plays a character of any significance: Emma Cullen. She’s as fierce and determined as any of the gunslingers. And don’t forget that she gets the kill shot on Bogue.

Others

  • Several lines are lifted straight from the original. The character origins were nearly identical to their 1960s counterparts. That must have eased the efforts of Nic Pizzolatto (creator of True Detective) and Richard Wenk (who worked with Fuqua on The Equalizer).
  • Bogue claims that history won’t remember Rose Creek because it won’t have lasted long enough. Well, you bring a hundred guys to massacre the town–they’ll write about it.
  • Here’s hoping that Denzel ate a real raw liver.

Summary (38/68): 56%

This most recent update of The Magnificent Seven brings the tale of seven outlaws and outcasts banding together for the common good into the twenty-first century. If you wanted more violence, you got your wish.

Perhaps 100 people die in this film, not a war movie, a Western, and a Western full of all the cliches endemic to the genre. The people of Rose Creek and their hired defenders believe they are alone. If dozens of hired guns stormed into an American town for the sole purpose of murdering every last townsfolk, the US government would not have stood for it.