'The Magnificent Seven' is Balm for Weak Summer Season


Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt lead a septet of cowboys and gunslingers in Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 classic of the same name starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. The premise here is identical, except it's a western mining town, not a Mexican peasant village, that needs protecting from villains and thieves.

The chief villain here is generic evil industrialist Bartholomew Pogue (Peter Sarsgaard), one of the movie's many fantastic names – hats off to True Detective's Nic Pizzolato, who co-wrote the script, on that score.

After Pogue kills the sturdiest of the able-bodied men in Rose Creek and informs the rest of the earnest homesteaders that they've got to pack up their things and skedaddle, on pain of death, spirited widow Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett, from Music & Lyrics!) tracks down bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to come to their rescue. Chisolm, persuaded for personal reasons that don't become clear until later, enlists the gambler Josh Faraday (Pratt); the Civil War sharp shooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke); Goodnight's knife-slinging sidekick from the Orient, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); a gruff tracker (Vincent D'Onfrio, sing-songing in weird Winnie-the-Pooh falsetto); a Mexican criminal (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); and a Comanche named Red Harvest, marching to the beat of his own drum (Martin Sensmeier).

The squad is assembled with economy and levity -- "I do believe that bear is wearing people's clothes," quips Pratt, as Faraday, when D'Onfrio's tracker initially declines the offer to join ranks – but the action takes off once they've come together in Rose Creek. An initial gunfight and an enormous final showdown pitting the town against Pogue and his re-enforcements constitute most of the movie's second half, and both are hugely successful, entertaining sequences. It's much more coherently choreographed and considerably more impactful than, say, the scenes of chaotic destruction that can be counted upon to mark the climaxes of most Hollywood superhero movies these days.

Two quick notes. 1) The Magnificent Seven straddles the summer season and the awards season, but should be viewed favorably as an entry in the former, not tepidly as an entry in the latter. This one's plain fun. Fuqua nails the ingredients of a classic Western – your one-liners, your duels, your WANTED posters -- without dampening the mood with dead-serious solemnity and moralizing.

And 2): The diverse cast of characters is both welcome and odd. The Seven are led by a black man, in 1879, whom no one seems to mind (or notice) is black. An Asian, a Mexican and a Native American are all on hand, and though they remain less-developed than Faraday and Robicheax – no monologues for the minorities (or even for brave Emma Cullen, come to think of it) – their presence paints a more colorful picture of the American West, particularly as viewed from the armchairs of 2016 America.