Gun-slinging cowboys, tobacco-spitting villains and saloons stocked with moonshine. It sounds like the recipe for a John Wayne classic, not a 2016 fall blockbuster.
Once one of the most popular film genres, the American Western has long been buried beneath our obsession with science fiction and action-packed films. Yet with a diverse, dynamic cast, “The Magnificent Seven” revives the genre for a new generation.
The film, which premiered on Sept. 23, is actually a remake of John Sturges’s 1960 classic Western by the same name, which in turn was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese film, “Seven Samurai.” All three films depict the same basic plot: a small village, terrorized by a vicious bandit leader, enlists the help of seven heroes to avenge their town.
Director Antoine Fuquoa, known for his gory movies “The Equalizer,” “Training Day” and “Southpaw,” continues his violent streak while adding a bit of heart to this Western tribute.
So what makes the 2016 version so magnificent? All credit is due to the simple plot and lovable, diverse cast. After a small mining town is ransacked by the greedy, gold-loving villain Bartholomew Bogue (played by Peter Sarsgaard), widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) enlists the help of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, played by the talented Denzel Washington. Dressed in black from head to horse, Chisolm is a man of silent justice, much like Washington’s character in “The Equalizer.”
Chisolm soon assembles a team of six other outlaws, gamblers and assassins to help defend the town: the whiskey-loving Josh Fariday (Chris Pratt); former Confederate soldier Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke); violent woodsman Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofiro); Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); knife-throwing Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); and native Comanche, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
With a cast so large and talented, it would be easy for the film to fall into the same pitfalls of other group hero movies like “Suicide Squad,” which spent too much time explaining characters’ backstories at the expense of the plot. Fuquoa expertly balances this issue, exposing just enough of his characters to keep them interesting while advancing the plot within a two-hour time frame.
Fuquoa should also be praised for his use of representation in casting. “The Magnificent Seven” is the most racially diverse Western to date, which is not so much a statement of political correctness but of historical accuracy. Quite simply, the West wasn’t all white but (as confirmed in the film) was occupied by African-Americans, Mexicans, Native Americans and Asian-Americans as well.
Overall, “The Magnificent Seven” is a must-see, not only for fans of the Western genre, but action and drama as well. Instead of producing another tired remake, Fuquoa has revived the genre while giving audiences a satisfying flick to be remembered long after the gun smoke clears.