“I’m so bummed this isn’t a Quentin Tarantino film!” The young woman behind me couldn’t be faulted for believing that The Magnificent 7 was another Tarantino western following 2012’s Django Unchained and 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Her comment got me thinking: are millennials familiar with the original 1960 film directed by John Sturges? Since the millennials I know (including my own two) are more likely to be watching Netflix rather than TCM, my guess is no. (Young people probably never watched the original Ocean 11 staring Sinatra and his Rat Pack, but that’s another story.)
Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Luke Grimes, and Haley Bennett
Sturges’ film, itself a redo of a Japanese film, Seven Samurai, is considered a classic today but received lukewarm reviews after its release. Writing in the New York Times, Howard Thompson called the film “a pallid, pretentious and overlong reflection of the Japanese original.” Time has been kind to the film, however, so Baby Boomers and older theater goers who can still hum the theme song, may come to this remake with high expectations. (Director Antoine Fuque has said that he used to watch Westerns with his grandmother who inspired him to make this film.)
The original seven included Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, and Horst Buchholz. This version has a diverse cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Byung-hun Lee, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Rather than rescuing a village in Mexico, their goal is to free a small mining town in California controlled by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).
Residents of Rose Creek meet in their church, hoping to come up with a strategy for dealing with Bogue who is seizing land, paying owners a fraction of what the property is worth. Tough talk dies down when Bogue shows up with his henchmen. Before the meeting is over, gunfire breaks out and bodies are scattered inside and outside the church. As a parting shot, Bogue’s men set the church on fire.
Haley Bennett and Chris Pratt
After Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) loses her husband Matthew (Matt Bomer, who was killed off much too quickly), she hires Sam Chisolm (Washington) to free the town from Bogue’s grip. Chisholm sets out to gather a team – some old friends (Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux, who comes with his new associate, Lee’s Billy Rocks), an outlaw he’s been hunting (Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez), and new recruits (Pratt’s Josh Farraday, D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne, and Sensmeier’s Red Harvest). It’s a motley group, for sure, but within a short space of time they unite over a common cause, mostly after witnessing the bravery and passion exhibited by Emma.
Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt
Returning to Rose Creek, Chisolm has to convince the townspeople, a frightened and reluctant bunch, to band together. The men learn to shoot, dig trenches, and prepare for Bogue’s army to descend on the town. The actual battle involves every weapon imaginable, from knives and hatchets, to rifles and pistols. Bogue shows up with a weapon capable of spraying dozens of bullets for maximum destruction. When it’s over, many of the men and some of the seven won’t be left standing.
Backstories for the seven are sketchy (we don’t learn Chisolm’s until the very end), but three of the actors still manage to create an impression. Washington, always a strong screen presence, is effective as Chisolm. Wearing a broad sombrero, dressed all in black, he looks threatening even before he draws his gun. D’Onofrio’s Horne, outfitted in animal skins resembles a large grizzly and like that predator faces down his enemies even when he’s outnumbered and mortally wounded.
But the star of the film is Pratt who takes over every scene he’s in. His Farraday cheats at poker then uses a card trick to distract the two losers who come to kill him. As Pratt managed in Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s the wise guy with charm. He delivers one-liners with a smile and a wink, never taking anything, most of all himself, too seriously.
The Magnificent 7 avoids the graphic violence in those R-rated Tarantino films. There’s lots of shooting, but the bloodshed is minimal. The film earned a PG-13 rating. Parental guidance is, of course, a must, even for millennials.
Stay for the credits so you can hear that famous theme song.
Magnificent 7 opens nationwide September 23, 2016.
Top photo Left to Right: Byung-hun Lee, Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Martin Sensmeier.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures