Think back to the glory days of 1960s cinema; epitomized by anything from glamorous period dramas to gritty, visceral westerns. Now look at 2010s cinema, where studios strive to pump out the next drab, overrated cash cow of a blockbuster film. Think on these two eras for a moment. Now imagine if one of those gritty, visceral 60s westerns traveled through time and was released in this day and age, because that’s what The Magnificent Seven was, and I could not have been happier.
Based on the original 1960 film of the same name, The Magnificent Seven follows a lone bounty hunter, Sam Chisolm (played by the incomparable Denzel Washington), as he gathers up six fellow gritty Midwestern gunslingers, including the likes of Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke, to create a merry band of misfits in order to save town from an evil gold tycoon, Bartholomew Bogue (played by Peter Saarsgard) and his malicious hired guns. And boy, was this movie great.
The performances were outstanding, especially from Ethan Hawke, whom I have always admired, ever since his debut as the nervous schoolboy, Todd Anderson, in 1989’s Dead Poets Society. Chris Pratt was Chris Pratt, as he always is; just the comedic lead that spouts the occasional one-liner and does cool action stuff. Denzel Washington is cool, calm, and reserved, as his character called for, but still shows us a bit of the fiery actor that he can be. A relative newcomer to the big screen, and somebody I am very pleased they decided to cast, is Haley Bennett, who plays the vengeful housewife who hires Chisolm to save her town. She does an admirable job conveying both the sadness of a widow and strength and bravery of a fierce gunslinger. Overall, the acting was exemplary.
Where the movie also excelled was in the action sequences. It is rare when an action movie of today can give the viewer something more than violence for the sake of violence, but this movie did not struggle with delivering such rarities in the purest of forms. Each bullet impact progressed the plot, each explosion encapsulated the scene and your attention, each and every death or injury is left permeated in your psyche for hours proceeding. I could not stop myself for gritting my teeth or gazing in amazement at the chaotically fantastic soiree of action that unfolded before me.
The sound was also commendable. From galloping horses to dynamite explosions, to bullet impacts, to the shuffling of playing cards, to even the pouring of a drink; all of it portrayed with some of the most monotonously detailed and scrutinized sound design of any film I’ve seen in recent years. James Horner’s beautifully composed soundtrack was as tantalizing and verbose as always, and left me feeling shivers at many points during my viewing experience.
Where this movie suffered the most was in its character development. When it came to characters, many of the attributes they possessed on the surface were made very apparent with each introduction, but much of their past or reasoning for who they were as characters was never truly fleshed out as much as the movie required them to be. This was a problem, especially when creating a subplot. Ethan Hawke’s character, a retired Confederate sharpshooter, struggled with dealing with the brutal memories from the Civil War, which was the central subplot of the film. Unfortunately, the film did not do a capable job of setting up or resolving it in a meaningful way. The main plot was very linear, which detracted from the grandiose premise of the film, but was certainly substantive and enthralling enough for one to continue to enjoy what was presented on the screen. The villain, Bogue, while very apparently consumed by greed, is ham-fistedly presented to us in the prologue as merely a morosely twisted Jesus figure McGuffin that is not utilized again any discernable capacity until the end of the film.
In an age where studios make films not based on interest, but rather financial gain, this film was a breath of fresh air amongst the day-to-day cinema smog. Beautifully shot and admirably acted, The Magnificent Seven lapses you into a euphoric state of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood-style nostalgia. This picture towers as an achievement in modern action and in revitalizing the age of classic westerns, with a comically contemporary twist that will make you leave the theater quenched of the thirst for good cinema, while simultaneously desperate for more. If there’s one piece of advice I can bestow upon you, it is that you see this film. You will not be disappointed.