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The Magnificent Seven •••1/2

magnificent_seven_2016Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto
Action/Adventure/Western, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2016


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Scott, I missed “The Magnificent” prequels – one through six. Can you fill me in before we review The Magnificent Seven?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, just read The Joy of Six and you’ll be fully up to speed. Let’s recap.

The 1870s town of Rose Creek has a problem: it’s been overrun by robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). He has enslaved many of the townsmen as miners for his gold mine. He has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way. When he burns down the church and kills Emma Cullen’s (Haley Bennett) husband in cold blood, she goes in search of someone who can stand up to Bogue, and get her revenge.

Enter warrant officer and bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Emma meets Chisolm and asks him to take back the town of Rose Creek. At first, Chisolm declines, but changes his mind when he hears it is Bogue who rules the town. Chisolm realizes he needs a team, so he recruits bad-boy Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife guru Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Comanche tribesman Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and Texican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).

Scott, depending on how you count, this is the third incarnation of this film. The original was Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai from 1954. It recounts a village overrun by mean guys with swords and the recruitment of seven estranged samurai to save the town. Six years later, John Sturges reimagined the story as an American western with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson in the saddles. This new incarnation has the same basic plot, but with a modern cast.

I think this version works quite well. Denzel is as great as ever. He’s cool and collected and stands toe-to-toe with any bad guy. Chris Pratt offers the comedic relief – playing the same role he plays in all his films, especially since his break-out role in Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s witty, snarky, and disarmingly charming. The cast is more multicultural than the earlier incarnations bringing in an African American, Irishman, Native American, and a Chinese man. This new casting works (although the idea of an arrow-wielding Indian taking on a town full of sharp shooters was a little hard to believe).

Greg, anyone who enjoys the western genre will enjoy this movie. Every western trope is trotted out like a showhorse and used effectively. Unlike westerns of yesteryear, this iteration of The Magnificent Seven carries with it some modern sensibilities. Our two main heroes are a woman and an African American, much like last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You know this movie is in safe, capable hands when the lead role is occupied by none other than Denzel Washington and the talented Haley Bennett. They make a good team.

In a sense, this movie packs two stories into one. First, we get the “origin story” of these superheroes, the backstory of how seven unlikely men unite to save a town. We are then treated to the heroic fruits of these men’s selfless labors. In a way, each member of the ensemble is shown to possess a unique “superpower”. For Chisolm, it is leadership, as he skillfully persuades each man to join what seems to be a lost cause. Faraday’s power is courage. For Bear, it is strength. For Red Harvest, the bow and arrow. For Billy Rocks, the knife. For Robicheaux, sharpshooting.

Good call, Scott. In our book “Reel Heroes & Villains” we identify this as an ensemble hero pattern with police or military attributes. Like other ensembles, there is a clear leader and lesser followers. We’ve seen this in movies such as Eye in the Sky and Suicide Squad. There are often leaders among the ensemble and Mag7 is no exception. While Chisolm is the leader, it is truly the story of the team. Each character has a role to fill.

In terms of mentoring, there is a lack of true mentorship here. There’s the implied “law of the west” which seems to guide our heroes. But there’s not a single character who guides our heroes, giving advice and gifts to help them along in their quest. You might make an argument that Bogue is a dark mentor for his followers. But that is a stretch. He’s a pure evil villain and his minions are just as broadly drawn. However, Chisolm and his friends do mentor the town in how to protect themselves and to take on the responsibility of protecting their town.

I guess it may depend on how you define mentorship. Chisolm does mentor the sharpshooter Robicheaux, who seems to have a bad case of PTSD. Chisolm gives him a good motivational speech, telling him that “what we lost in the fire we can find again in the ashes.” As you point out, Robicheaux and a few others try to mentor the townspeople with mixed success. These ordinary townspeople only have one week to prepare for the onslaught and can only rise to the challenge so much.

I would like to point out that once again we have a movie in which a woman character has a transformative influence on male characters. Here it is Emma Cullen, the woman who seeks justice for her murdered husband. We’ve seen this pattern of women transforming men in recent movies such as The Light Between Oceans and Snowden. I wouldn’t call it a mentoring role, but Cullen does single-handedly set the plotline in motion by offering Chisolm and his men the opportunity for heroism. Cullen is a strong female character who ends up saving Chisolm’s life at the end.

The Magnificent Seven is an entertaining and occasionally humorous film. There aren’t many westerns in theaters any more. Mag7 delivered everything you’d expect from a great western. There were good guys who weren’t all that good, and bad guys who were all bad. There were Indians and bear hunters. It was an all-around good time. I give The Magnificent Seven 4 out of 5 Reels.

These are some classic heroes. While they weren’t necessarily the most moral of men, they were on the right side of the fight. As an ensemble, they shared the spotlight. While Chisolm took the lead, he had great help from his sidekicks. I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The movie was light on the mentorship. Our heroes tried to teach the townspeople to shoot. We were left with the law of the west as the guidepost for our heroes. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Mentor points.

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I enjoyed Mag7, too, but probably not quite as much as you did, Greg. As westerns go, this one largely succeeds on the strength of its diverse ensemble cast, led with the cool confidence of Denzel Washington. There are good performances all around, coupled with some great gun battles. For offering a mindless escape from reality that incorporates all the fun elements of a western flick, I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

This ensemble group does indeed travel the hero’s journey, and they do so collectively as well as individually. I enjoyed following the various personal growth patterns of several of our heroes. Not all of them were so magnificent, but their selfless sacrifice truly captures a central element of heroism. These heroes merit a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5.

Chisolm was a good mentor to a few of the magnificent seven, and Robicheaux attempted to mentor the inept townspeople. There is also implied dark mentorship of our irredeemably evil villain, Bogue. Overall, the mentors were solid although certainly not a prominent feature of this film. These mentors deserve a rating of 3 out of 5.

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