Okay, so I haven’t seen the original, but I have seen Seven Samurai (1954) that the original Magnificent Seven was based on. But I also haven’t seen Seven Samurai in years, and I barely remember the details.
I really enjoyed this movie. It was perfect for what I wanted it to be, just an entertaining shoot ’em up western. There’s humor, some nice set pieces, and it’s simplicity didn’t detract from my experience.
In many ways, though, it’s just so formulaic. At one point they set up that a messenger is going to be sent to the bad guy, an industrialist name Bartholomew Bogue. After a few scenes passed I thought to myself “oh we haven’t gotten the scene where the messenger tells the bad guy what happened, the bad guy gets mad, then he shoots the messenger because he’s mad and it’s supposed to demonstrate how bad he is.” Then that scene happened.
So there was some of that, and it makes you roll your eyes, but the action set pieces were a lot of fun to watch even if they didn’t always make sense.
So here’s the story, and it’s not complicated. Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) picks on a small town, demanding money and resources from their land or else he’ll do bad stuff to them.
We get the first scene in which he kills a guy who looks like he might otherwise be the hero of the story, so we know Bogue is bad. Then the dead man’s wife, Emma (Haley Bennett) finds Denzel Washington who plays a man named Sam Chisolm. Chisolm is a badass gunslinger, and it turns out everyone else he recruits is a perfect shot too.
The idea is that the “seven” come from different walks of life. One’s Mexican, Irish, Black, Comanche, old and a woman. I don’t know, I get the idea, but it seemed to play a little too much on stereotypes, particularly the Native Americans.
So the seven save the town from the bad guys in an explosive battle. That was well and good, very good in fact, I had a blast watching everything come to blows. But within big battles like this there always have to be smaller battles in which the individual characters cap off their personal arcs.
So Red Harvest, the Comanche warrior on the side of the Seven, has to be the one to kill the Native American who is on the bad guy’s side. The only reason they battle it out is that they must have a personal history, I suppose, because Red Harvest calls the other one a traitor or something. But we’ve never seen them interact, so we’re just supposed to say “I mean they’re both native american and they look the same, so they must know each other.” It was a little ridiculous and unnecessary.
Similarly, you have to have the character who abandons them but comes back at the end. That was played by Ethan Hawke, a character named Goodnight. So Goodnight, we learn, struggles to shoot his gun but he’s also a marksman. So he has some reservations about murder based on his past. Well, he abandons Denzel and the others, but then he comes back, guns blazing and dies in the battle, a hero. That was another trope.
Then you have Denzel in the final confrontation with Bogue. This is after everyone is slaughtered, or almost everyone. Instead of just shooting Bogue and getting it over with, he’s got to draw it out and reveal that Bogue hired men who killed Denzel’s family. This is new to the audience though it’s hinted at earlier when Goodnight tells Chisolm that Emma looks like Chisolm’s sister. So we know something happened to his sister and that’s why he was open to helping Emma.
Then Bogue almost gets his hands on a gun to shoot Chisolm but Emma shoots him dead. Again, it’s very much a trope of action movies.
Then the last shot is horrendous. God, I know I said I liked this movie, and I did, but there’s room for improvement. In the final shot we see the sun setting over the town in a completely CGI shot. Apparently they may have not finished shooting the ending so they stuck this in there with Emma’s narration, calling them magnificent. It’s so bad, like truly terrible, and they’d be better off cutting it completely.
Okay. So I had fun watching this movie, I thought the actors were good, and the humor worked. It was fun. At the same time it’s so simple and relies on movie tropes and stereotypes. I guess the reason I liked it is I didn’t think it needed to rely on those tropes, and it didn’t. They could’ve cut certain scenes or rewrote them and everything would’ve been fine and dandy. So every time a scene like that occurred, I could look past it and move on. It’d be different if the story leaned on these tropes, but it feels like they were shoe horned in there by the studio.
Some other observations: I liked the brutality, and not just because action sells, but the wild west terrifies me. Every time a gunslinger enters a saloon, every dude in there has his gun locked and loaded. I don’t know how every saloon isn’t in constant repair with bullet holes everywhere. To me the wild west is brutal and violent and nothing’s pretty. You have to live with the knowledge that things can go down in flames at any minute. Of course, that’s probably an image sensationalized and perpetrated by Hollywood, so I should do my own research. But as a western this is playing on our knowledge of other westerns, not our detailed knowledge of American History.
When they tell us it’s a three day ride from the small town to Sacramento we accept it. I’m not doing the math of, well if they go this speed with this much time to sleep each night they’ll get there in fifty hours. What do I know?
So it requires a suspension of belief as well as a familiarity with other westerns. All I know about westerns are beards, beautiful vistas, guns, whiskey and cowboy confidence. This had all of that and there was never any indication that the movie would try to subvert these expectations. Then you have scenes like Chris Pratt sacrificing himself for the town as well as Goodnight and his partner Billy dying in a barrage of bullets.
I guess a lot of westerns are like this one in which you have the badass characters who are familiar with extreme violence and yet at their core is a big, sacrificial heart. It’s a nice image, even if it is a simple and perhaps not a completely earned ending. It’s a bow on a package that’s tearing at it’s sides, but inside the torn package is a nice shiny camera or something you enjoy, so it worked for me (if that makes any sense).
Up Next: September (1987), Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)