The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven photo
Photo by D. Tempesta

The Magnificent Seven was a true western, which proved to be its biggest hindrance. I do not much like westerns, and have not seen very many as a result. But I do have my reasons! I enjoy complex stories with subtlety and surprises. Very few westerns (if any) offer this. The plot lines feel too straightforward and predictable. The good guys are decisively good and the bad guys are irredeemably bad. The good guys are mistreated and fighting against the odds while the bad guys come crashing down from their high tower. Admittedly, these endings feel good. But these stories are just too simple. In the interest of being fair, I will concede that westerns do have some excellent characters. The character archetypes are predictable, but the characters themselves are often interesting and diverse. The characters in The Magnificent Seven are what save this film.

As always, good things first. We already know where the story ends and how we are going to get there, so we may as well have fun on the way. The characters of The Magnificent Seven provide that fun, and the actors themselves amplify it. Each of the seven brings so much to the film. As expected, each scene with Denzel Washington is fun to watch. He commands the screen just as his characters commands every situation he finds himself in. He casually walks into a saloon in a new town, disarms three men, and kills his bounty. Then walks straight out the front door. Even when facing down a gatling gun, he still carries that calm demeanor with him. But there is no arrogance in it. He is a caring leader, and people are willing to fight with him because of it. Only Chisolm could have pulled the other six together. I have seen few characters that can be as simultaneously charming and likeable while casually shooting men as Chris Pratt’s Faraday. Much of this has to do with the way Pratt carries himself on screen, but the character of Faraday fulfills an important fantasy. He is the charismatic, (seemingly) carefree, far superior gunman with the wit and/or skill to get himself out of any bad situation his lifestyle lands him in. Faraday makes his way of life seem appealing, even though he himself likely wishes for something else. I don’t think I am reading too much into this, either. The drinking itself indicates at least as much. Add on top of that his thinly veiled reason for fighting was that he needed his horse, and it is clear that he is looking for more. But my favorite part is that we have to figure that out on our own. It is shown to us, but we have to be willing to see it. What’s more is that, even once we do discover what Faraday is, we still don’t know what made him what he is. This aura of unknown is also what makes Billy such an intriguing character. He is this knife-wielding enigma with an unexplained loyalty to a troubled man.

It is here where I think a bit of an opportunity was wasted. The movie plays off Goodnight’s mysterious past quite well. He is supposedly a great war hero, but foolishly brandishes his rifle around in his first encounter on screen. Never firing a single shot. This is more backstory than we get of any of the others. There was a great opportunity to use this. Goodnight’s confliction could have been shown more. Instead, we get less than two minutes (give or take) through three different scenes of what Goodnight was battling. Fortunately, Ethan Hunt utilized his time on screen to its fullest extent, so we are given a bit of this. But I wanted more. While I liked Red Harvest, his presence was fairly trivial. But the bow was a nice touch throughout the fights. Kingpin’s portrayal of the loveable and terrifying Jack Horne was just plain fun. The Magnificent Seven is the type of movie where you know a number of the main characters are going to die; it is just a matter of how many and in which order. Horne softens this blow by being the first to die. He was so aware and accepting of his own death that it made it easier for us to process. Now, I know we have extreme diversity already, but the unique perspective that Vasquez brought to the group was appreciated. He was a Mexican living in America shortly after The Alamo. And the relationship between Faraday and Vasquez was well-executed. Despite a predictable journey and destination, the characters are the only thing that make the trip worth it.

The Magnificent Seven is clearly a nod to westerns everywhere. It is a remake of a film with literally the same name. In many ways, I think it succeeded. However, this also seems to be its largest downfall. I can live with the absurd gun skill from the main characters. I can even deal with the predictable final showdown at the end. But what bothers me is how aware of itself the movie seemed to be. It was as if there was a checklist that they were going by and wanted to check off all of the boxes by the end of the film. Troubled woman with murdered family but powerless to save her town on her own. Check. Quick preliminary showdown between the main good guys and the tertiary bad guys that shows off the ability of the good guys. Check. Dramatic reentrance of the man tortured by his war past that “abandoned” everyone hours before the final showdown. Check. Over a flaming wagon in slow motion while shooting one of the baddies no less. I mean, Bogue was even killed in the very same church in which the movie started. And both Emma Cullen and Chisolm each got to share in the vengeance. It’s just too on the nose. Too aware. If you still disagree, I would like to point out that the final word of the movie is “magnificent”.

My name is Chuck, and these are my thoughts. Now I would like to know what you think. What did you think of the characters we were given for the seven? Do you think the plot was fine as is or could have done more? Why doesn’t anyone ever just lead with the gatling gun? Leave a comment down below, and we’ll talk. Enjoy the day!

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