Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 7; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Apparently lacking ideas for an original story the powers that be at Columbia and MGM decided to hark back to 1960 and remake Western The Magnificent Seven—which itself was an Americanized version of the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 The Seven Samurai. The script by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto makes lots of changes–from the location (from Mexico to a town in California); from a villain who is bandit chief to a wealthy mine owner living in splendor in Sacramento; and increasing greatly the ethnic diversity of the Seven, as well as the director, from the white John Sturges to the black Antoine Fuqua, an action film director who knows how to stage a fight.
Instead of an outlaw bandit the villain this time is capitalist mine owner Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who lives in the state capital and visits his gold mines in the small town of Rose Creek, apparently having learned that the locals are fed up with the pollution and corruption. In what amounts to a prologue, the towns folk have just convened their meeting in a small church when gunmen stomp in and take their posts around the edges of the congregation. One of them even spits his tobacco juice onto the floor. Bogue walks in, taking over the pulpit and addresses the crowd, telling them that they are standing in the way of God by opposing him. He offers them a ridiculous low price for their land, which they refuse. Afterward, when farmer Matthew Cullen (Matt Bomer) dares to stand up to him, Bogue shoots him dead. Another protestor dies with a tomahawk stuck in his back. Bogue gives the villagers three weeks to clear out. I guess to underline his serious intent, he orders his goons to set the church on fire. Now here is a villain you love to hate!
The now widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), refusing to give in, sets out to find gunmen who can help her people fight back against Bogue and his thugs. The first person she comes across is Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a “duly warranted law officer,” whom we see is quick and accurate with his gun when any bad guy dares challenge him. He is reluctant at first, but gives in and agrees to round up some others, starting with professional gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), whose knowledge of dynamite will come in handy; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a Southern marksman, aka the Angel of Death troubled about his violent past; Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a grizzly old mountain man with a compassionate heart; Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Korean adept at martial arts and the use of sharp knives; Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Mexican bandito; and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a Comanche skilled with the use of bow and arrow, his body decorated with war paint. (Most of the others at first are motivated by the money offered by the villagers, but that of Red Harvest is harder to fathom—perhaps a mixture of determination to right a wrong and an opportunity to impale thieving white men with his arrows?
How these misfits cope with training the timid citizens of Rose Creek and then the onslaught of Boque’s army makes for exciting, and bloody, action scenes. The body count is huge, and though there is less blood and gore than in some action films, I still was a bit appalled to see so many young children at the advance screening I attended.
There is a veneer of religion in the film, the people and pastor praying before the big battle, but it is not very profound. When Chisolm asks Emma, who throughout the film wears what then would have been a blouse cut so low that only those following the world’s “oldest profession” would have worn it outside, if she is seeking revenge, she admits that this is partly true, and then adds “justice.” Justice, of course, in such Old West fantasies as this, always seems to require the spilling of gallons of blood.
The film by its mixture of Mexican, black, Korean, white, and Native American characters appeals to our current emphasis upon diversity—which during the current political campaign is under concerted attack. So maybe, we should cheer this attempt to make up for the long period when Hollywood never showed a black cowboy and pictured Asians as spineless servants, Mexicans as shiftless sombrero wearers taking siestas, and Native Americans as brutal savages ravaging innocent whites. However, like so many films, ranging from the war film The Dirty Dozen to those of Quinten Tarintino’s, it celebrates violence as cool and guaranteed to bring about good results. Very entertaining, but also, for me at least, troubling.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of Visual Parables.
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