The 400-Word Review: The Magnificent Seven
By Sean Collier
September 27, 2016
The age of the Hollywood western never really ended. Instances of the genre certainly became less frequent as the 20th century approached its conclusion, but the style is too cinematic to ever be abandoned; innumerable examples from recent years have seen successful directors return to the old west, many to memorable effect.
What did vanish, however, is the simplicity of those classics. Good guys and bad guys are no longer enough. In the 1960 Magnificent Seven, there was a pack of bandits. In 2016’s version, there is the dark, menacing march of profit-driven capitalism made flesh in the guise of a sneering, gold-hungry villain.
There’s nothing wrong with this. This Magnificent Seven is one of the year’s best films. It’s just curious to note that the genre has survived a broader film push to be forever upping the stakes. If anything, it’s to the new film’s credit; while many blockbusters buckle under the weight of finding a reason for heroes to save the world, this remake handles the charge with style and muscle.
Other than inflated circumstances, the story is similar: A rural village is under duress, and a mismatched posse of gunslingers is assembled to protect it. The characters aren’t analogues, with the exception of Denzel Washington taking up Yul Brynner’s mantle; the rest of the seven (Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier) are each given a concise, compelling introduction in the film’s first hour. Haley Bennett replaces the trio of villagers who sought the seven in the original, in a welcome nod to adding at least one significant female role to the film. (It would’ve been more notable to add women to the septet, but so it goes.)
Under the direction of Antoine Fuqua and, more notably, the camera of cinematographer Mauro Fiore, Magnificent Seven is stunningly beautiful; if you turned the sound off, you’d still have a compelling film. It’s no coincidence that Fiore won an Oscar for shooting Avatar; the American old west is as remote an idea as Pandora, and Fiore shoots these dust-choked towns as if they’re on a far-off planet.
Some debatable choices in the update notwithstanding, Magnificent Seven is a very good film — a fine entertainment, elegantly made. It hearkens to the era of the film it recreates, when the biggest blockbusters were crowd-pleasing and artful, a quality more studios should seek to reclaim.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark