If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember a time when the Western was king. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Annie Oakley all spawned merchandising, television shows, and a fan base of kids with toy six shooters. Innumerable movies set in the Wild West all used the same convention: in the battle of good and evil, it was easy to know the difference, and goodness always prevailed.
As the world became more complicated, popular culture responded, and the Western gave way to more modern versions of the cosmic battle. Spies, detectives, space cadets, government agents, and even an assortment of anti-heroes edged the cowboys right off the silver screen.
Now they’re back.
“The Magnificent Seven” borrows its premise and name from a 1960s film and franchise. As a remake, this version harkens back to those simpler times when the West needed taming, and a few real men were willing to do it.
As a film, “The Magnificent Seven” is not without flaws. Sometimes the shootouts actually lack intensity and suspense even though the action dominates. Bullets rain, and then bodies plummet from balconies, from behind doorways, through windows, and over railings. More emotion and fewer bullets could have made this a better movie.
As is the case in the first version of the film, a small community hoping to stake a claim on civilization needs help. The little town of Rose Creek has fallen victim to the exploits of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his men. The breaking point occurs when Bogue punishes the townspeople for low profits from the mine he owns. He burns down the church, shoots the men in front of their families, and promises to return in the three weeks to inflict more suffering.
One woman Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) determines to take action, and she starts the process of recruitment to save the town. One by one, through chance and luck, a group to fight Bogue and his men are assembled from an unlikely combination of gunslingers, lawmen, card sharks, bounty hunters, trappers, one Indian warrior, and Emma.
Each one has different motives, but they all want the same result: to free Rose Creek from the evil that holds it hostage.
An easy chemistry exists among the seven as comradery grows. The ensemble cast plays well together. Ethan Hawke’s “take-no-prisoners” portrayal of Goodnight Robicheaux contrasts successfully with the less intense style of Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday. Denzel Washington as Chisolm channels Gary Cooper as a man whose silence often speaks volumes. All of the seven find their pace.
I don’t think this blast from the past will necessarily usher in more Westerns, but in these complicated times, this film fills a gap. Sometimes, it’s nice to simplify. In the world of the Western, we can tell the good guys from the bad, right the wrongs, and live happily ever after. That, in itself, can feel pretty magnificent.
Rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.