While there had been a two season TV series in the late 90’s, the Seven Samurai inspired franchise had remained quiet. Certainly, plenty of films have used the “group of gunslingers or outlaws step up to help people in need. It is one of the most popular western motifs. But it took until 2016 for it to come back to life.
Set in 1879, Tycoon Bartholomew Bogue has overtaken the town of Rose Creek. He owns the Sheriff and has had his men deputized. Forcing the people into labor, they are living in misery. After he has some of the towns people killed to “lay down the law”, they seek the help of Sam Chisolm, a U.S. Marshall. Chisolm starts recruiting people, starting with gambler Joshua Faraday, who is trying to get his horse back, but lacks funds. As they work their way back, they reach out to various individuals…a Mexican Outlaw named Vasquez, an old trapper named Jack Home. He also brings in former Confederate officer named Goodnight Robicheaux and his partner Billy Rocks. Finally, they bring in exiled Comanche Warrior Red Harvest.
This film has a very conscious eye towards diversity. Billy Rocks is a Korean immigrant skilled both with knives and guns. Chisolm is a black man. And even the Confederate is explicitly portrayed as “not the racist kind”. He clearly has a longstanding friendship with Chisolm and his relationship with Rocks is an equal partnership.
But this works in the favor of the film. These characters all come from desperately different backgrounds, but come together to form a solid unit that trusts each other. I found myself genuinely liking these characters. Granted, a certain amount of this is due specifically to the cast. Denzel Washington tends to bring a sense of authority to every role. Chris Pratt of course has a likeable sweet boyishness that tends to run through his roles. Byung-Hun Lee is just kind of a dashing hero type. You can always depend on D’Onofrio and Hawke to deliver terrific character performances.
And Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue? He is a clear cut, unambiguous bad guy. He does not even see himself as the hero of his story. He just believes in “might makes right”. When we are introduced to him, he steps into a church and shows no sense of respect for the faith of the parishioners.
Overall, this film is quite exiting and smartly chose to create an entirely new set of “Seven”. It is also a bit darker and grittier. That is not to say it is not fun, it definitely has it’s moments of levity. I feel like the addition of a revenge element for one of the Seven was unnecessary, and even kind of undermines the idea of the willingness of these guys to sacrifice themselves for the town.
But director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter and the Equalizer) delivers a pretty solid energetic modern western with the Magnificent Seven.