As a remake of the 1954 Kurosawa film Seven Samurai, director John Sturgis’ The Magnificent Seven from 1960 remains the go-to film for initiating the Western genre novice due to its bursting visual palette that defines the breathtaking scope of the Old West, its Elmer Bernstein score that became a cigarette trademark and its basic theme of right vs. wrong.
Director Antoine Fuqua accepted the challenge of bringing this Western classic full circle, knowing that it is one of the most remade films, producing three sequels, a TV series and a 1980 Roger Corman space opera, Battle Beyond the Stars, where Robert Vaughn reprised his role as one of the “seven,” before it was restructured as Takeshi Miike’s 2010 international hit, 13 Assassins. Fuqua, an African-American director, is known for upending the applecart, finding new angles for his perspectives on Anglo-Saxon history (King Arthur) and the buddy film (Training Day).
The story is familiar to anyone who knows the work of George Lucas. Seven gunmen (or samurai, or Jedi, etc.) are hired to help farmers being forced to forfeit their land to a robber baron hoping to finance his mining operation. When her husband is gunned down in the streets by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), Emma (Haley Bennett, who was also in Fuqua’s The Equalizer with Denzel Washington) seeks out a bounty hunter named Chisolm (played by Denzel), who prefers the more dignified designation as “a duly appointed warrant officer of the law.” Together they set out to amass a diverse team to defend the huddled masses.
And through this cast of characters, Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven makes its stand to rival all other versions. Having worked with both Denzel and Ethan Hawke on Training Day, it’s only natural for their relationship to provide the crucial link in the film for the team to function.
As the war-weary Goodnight Robicheaux, Hawke struggles with the unearned while his knife-wielding accomplice Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is his Jiminy-Cricket-by-way-of-Oddjob conscience. Chris Pratt is Faraday, a smart-ass card shark who isn’t all too smart. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw. Vincent D’Onofrio does his best Brian Keith “Mountain Man” impression, and fleshing out the diversity, there’s Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a Comanche warrior whose name is an obvious reference to the book Kurosawa used as the basis for his movie, Yojimbo.
But the clearest deviation between this and other remakes is Fuqua’s attention to Bible references peppered throughout the film. The church is accurately in the center of the town square to designate its significance. Jack Horne (D’Onofrio) blesses people and makes reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. Faraday uses the shortest line in the Bible, “Jesus wept,” as the punch line to a joke! Emma, when questioned by Chisolm as to her motivation, says, “I seek righteousness as we should, but will settle for vengeance!”
And there’s the numerical significances of the “seven” itself.
Used 735 times in the Bible, 54 times alone in the book of Revelation, it signifies completeness as the foundation of God’s work, it’s tied to his Creation and, according to Jewish teachings, it refers to the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, when Adam was created.
“Sending a woman to gather guns is not chivalrous,” states Faraday, who identifies himself as a Baptist!
Westerns are more than shoot ‘em ups. The dichotomous natures of vengeance and redemption figure heavily here, neither fully able to compensate for the nightmare.
“We ain’t killers,” affirms Emma.
“Most ain’t until they are looking down the barrel of a gun,” replies Chisolm.
Words carry a jolt, so bad guy Bogue mixes his premise, claiming “democracy equates with capitalism, and capitalism with God” – therefore, to oppose progress, you are opposing God.
Christianity is a monarchy with Jesus as King. Capitalism protects the rights of the individual to live as he sees fit. Bogue is neither Christian nor capitalist, but has a modern day counterpart in the mega-churches that want to anchor parishioners’ lives under their guidelines, claiming job opportunities, social activities, sports facilities and coffee shops. But, gee, nowhere is it mentioned that by its very own definition, the church is a house of worship!
The Magnificent Seven is timeless.