I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am that I’m only just now going to tell you how fucking amazing the new The Magnificent Seven movie is. Because it is fucking amazing. If it’s still showing in your area, you should go see it while you still can.
Though I will add one important caveat: go in with the clear knowledge that this movie is a Western, and keeps with some of the very classic motifs. (Which is a remarkable and beautiful, multilayered thing when you consider it’s based on Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, translated to a different era, a different genre.) The villain (Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue) is a scenery-chewing, cartoonish capitalist-as-black-hat. The heroes are super stoic and the character development isn’t exactly deep. It’s all about men (and a single woman) with guns, shooting their way to justice. There are some wonderful revisionist elements called forth by the casting, but it still plays to trope.
So basically, if you don’t like westerns, you’re not going to like this movie, even though it’s wonderful.
Weeks after watching the movie, when I’m having to check my notes to remember details I liked or didn’t, there are certain things that stick with me. One, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Antoine Fuqua draws out the rugged beauty of the Western landscape with breathtaking detail, including location shots in the Valles Caldera in New Mexico. It’s landscape porn at its finest. But even when the camera isn’t making love to he scrubby desert, so much detail in the shots of the people is perfect. The opening credits of the man in black (Denzel Washington and his glorious sideburns playing Chisolm) approaching through the wavering heat of the desert gave me chills.
But beyond all that stark beauty, it’s the casting that really hit me. Denzel Washington is amazing as the Chisolm, the marshal who has his own reasons for going into this fight. Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks stole every scene he was in. Faraday (Chris Pratt) and Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) better have a serious amount of fanfiction about them on AO3 or I’m going to question fandom’s dedication to slash. And Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest stole every scene that Byung-hun Lee hadn’t gotten to first and brought a massive amount of depth to a character who said the least out of all seven.
Basically, they were all wonderful. And the act of casting so many men of color (four out of the seven) is one of the greatest revisionist acts of this version of The Magnificent Seven. It’s hopefully not a surprise to you at this point to hear that the classic Hollywood vision of the west is incredibly whitewashed, even just looking at the percentage of cowboys who were black or Hispanic. And that all four of the non-white characters are so integral to the story—the team up literally would not have happened without Chisolm at the helm, for example—shows Fuqua’s vision of creating a Western everyone can see themselves in.
(Well, everyone male, at least.)
Come for the landscapes, stay for the fucking amazing gunfights and Denzel Washington’s sideburns. You won’t be sorry.
In step that takes the revisionism beyond just the casting, only one of the non-white characters dies—Billy Rocks, and his end at the side of Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is really the only satisfying conclusion for the two of them. The magnificent survivors at the end of this magnificent film are Chisolm, Vasquez, and Red Harvest, riding off into the sunset.
The other element of this film that I think makes it more of a revisionist Western is the villain. At the very beginning, Bogue states: “This country has long equated progress with capitalism, and capitalism with God. You’re not only standing in the way of progress, you’re standing in the way of God.” Over the top, obviously, and you haven’t even heard how it’s delivered. But it’s also a very clear statement of what this villain represents: the American inclination to treat capitalism’s invisible hand as nearly divine, with a sideswipe at Manifest Destiny.
While the greedy land owner/mine owner/industrialist has long been a staple of the Western, the script makes this very specifically about capitalism decimating a community. And the community fights back through extralegal means because the law is in the pocket of the businessman—not an uncommon element of Westerns, but the framing here is of a systemic problem rather than Bogue being just one bad guy in a nice waistcoat.
I love it. I want to see it again and sip some whiskey while doing so.