Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
2016. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
The good people of Rose Creek have had it. For far too long they have been ruled under the iron thumb of Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard). He took over the town which he uses as his base of operations as he's mining the nearby hills for gold. Things are so bad, the townsfolk have a meeting to decide what should be done about the situation. Bogue and his goons show up, uninvited of course, and a number of locals end up dead. One of the survivors, Emma (Bennett), lost her husband. Not one to take such things lying down, she and Teddy (Grimes) ride over to the next town in hopes of hiring someone to take down Bogue with what little money they have. Emma sets her sights upon Sam Chisolm (Washington), a warrant officer who proves himself to be a badass. Knowing he can't do it alone, Chisolm then goes about trying to recruit some more help. Eventually, he winds up with a multi-cultural, multi-talented team of seven, duh, who ride into Rose Creek to do battle with the evil Bogue. Yes, dear reader, there was already an iconic western title The Magnificent Seven. Let's call this one a reimagining. Better yet, let's call it the same thing as the "original," an Americanized version of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.
The very beginning of the movie plays pretty harshly. However, the tone quickly settles into a more fun vein. It starts with the two biggest names in the cast, Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. As the leader of our ragtag bunch of gunslingers (and knife throwers) Washington plays the type of role we've seen him play what seems like countless times before. He's authoritative, capable, confident, and literally, riding into town to save the day. His indomitable swag drips off the screen. Pratt is also in a role he's played before. He's the charming wise-cracker out to do something heroic and to have a good time doing it. Essentially, he dons the same persona that served him so well in Guardians of the Galaxy. He and Washington are both perfect fits for their characters. They aren't necessarily giving Oscar worthy performances. What they are doing, however, is being movie stars. The power of their magnetism is on full display.
An assortment of character actors take on fairly stock roles. Thankfully, they are able to make the most of them with some excellent work by actors making these characters their own. Vincent D'Onofrio is the most memorable as Jack Horne, a big man with an odd voice, and faith to spare. Like lots of other D'Onofrio characters, this one is just the right kind of over-the-top. Byung-hun Lee is a leading man in his native South Korea, but often relegated to "Asian fighting expert" in his American roles. He is nearly as good as our resident knife thrower, managing to be greater than the role calls for him to be. Peter Sarsgaard is just as good as our villain. He makes Bogue perfectly detestable with a mustache twirling performance. Ethan Hawke is often a leading man, but not one who fits the classic Hollywood prototype. He's quirkier, more human than most. The quality serves him well, here, enabling him to give us the person with the most depth as Goodnight Robicheaux, a former Confederate soldier clearly dealing with PTSD.
While the men dominate the screen, and generally take turns being dynamic, it's Haley Bennett who gives the movie its heart. Her Emma Cullen is the person who sought out our hired guns. Since her husband was killed she has the most reason for wanting their efforts to be successful. She brings much needed passion to the film and endows her character with more than enough weight to ground the film. However, that's not her only job. She's not some feeble woman waiting on these big, strong men to save her. She's ready, willing, and fully able to take an active role in her own emancipation. In fact, she's more able than any of the men native to Rose Creek, and with more guts, too. Such a role demands dignity and grit. Bennett supplies an ample amount of both.
In case I haven't already made it clear, The Magnificent Seven of 2016 vintage has more in common with the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers, both part of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, than with Seven Samurai. This is both a blessing and a curse. It never takes itself too seriously and has no goals as lofty as being being than its source material, or for that matter, the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven. It merely seeks to be entertaining. At that, it succeeds, delivering a lively popcorn flick that takes a giddy approach to much of its dialogue and its violence. The downside of this is that the film is quite shallow. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal, and for some it won't be, but there is the potential to provide a more meaningful movie-watching experience. It touches upon a number of themes relevant to today's viewers. Unfortunately, it never does anything more than scratch the surface. It gets a few laughs out of each, or gives us a brief deep moment, then moves on to something else. In essence, the movie teases us with greatness, but consistently settles for being fun. This is okay since it is a blast to watch. The small disappointment is that it could have been more, but chose not to be.