A series of mine explosions echo through Rose Creek, signalling unrest in the tiny mining town. Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has taken over, terrorizing the town with hired goons. He’s a cruel man who guns down citizens and says to his henchmen, “Leave the bodies where they lie. Let them look at them for a few days.” Bad Bart wants the land but is only will to pay a pittance per parcel. “Those of you who signed the deeds will get your $20,” he sneers. “And those who don’t, God help you.”
The townsfolk are helpless. Bogue has killed a half dozen men and with the sheriff on his payroll will continue to do as he pleases. Fed up and recently widowed, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) turns to hired gun Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) for help. “You don’t need a bounty hunter,” he says, “you need an army.” Despite the massive odds against them Chisolm assembles a rag tag team of killers, gamblers and outlaws—Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier)—to go up against the ruthless robber baron in what promises to be a better than OK gunfight at the corral.
“The Magnificent Seven” is a classic looking western with a modern pace. Fuqua chooses not to mess with the key oater elements. He papers the screen with acres of open land, seven tough men, one or two resilient women and a sea of cowboy hats. He is respectful to the form and doesn’t try to bring the genre into the twenty-first century with frenetic editing—I’m looking at you Timur “Ben-Hur” Bekmambetov—or contemporary language. It’s a western, with all that entails; good vs. evil with some moral ambiguity thrown in for good measure.
Also thrown in for good measure is a heap of star power. Washington is a cool character, quietly deadly. He says cool stuff—“Chisolm, should I know that name?” he’s asked. “You should know it from your obituary,” he replies.—and is the movie’s charismatic center. Chris Pratt’s easy charm gives Washington a run for his money, but this is really Denzel’s movie from top to bottom.
Hawke and D’Onofrio do interesting character work. As the shell-shocked Robicheaux Hawke is equal parts swagger and skittishness while D’Onofrio is practically unrecognizable as the squeaky-voiced Jack Horne.
The remaining member of the seven aren’t given much to do other than pull triggers and nod in agreement to Chisolm’s plans, but they are an interesting bunch nonetheless.
At a little over two hours “The Magnificent Seven” could be leaner and well, maybe not meaner—I would not be surprised if it had the highest body count in a western ever—but tighter. There is a mid-movie sag as the plans for the final shootout are being finalized but the ballet of bullets at the end is epic, if not a little excessive, putting a fitting cap on a story that is slight but entertaining for most of the running time.