Kicking off the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, The Magnificent Seven — a remake of a 1960 John Sturges Western that was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai — is vintage Antoine Fuqua. (Not “vintage” in the “this is old” way, but in the way when someone asks you to name a movie that best sums up Antoine Fuqua, from now on you can just point to this.) Fuqua really has become the new Tony Scott. I write this as the utmost of compliments. (And it’s not surprising that the late Scott and Fuqua have both made great films with Denzel Washington.) The new The Magnificent Seven is a master class in over-the-top acting and line delivery and, really, just everything. I want to see it again.
The Magnificent Seven is what Suicide Squad should have been: a ragtag group of scoundrels and malcontents, who band together to fight an even more villainous foe, who all seem to realize a) this is a big lark, and b) they have no chance of winning, but c) they do it all anyway with a wink and a smile. No, there are no tiny bombs in their heads — these ruffians do it for the loot. (Well, most of them, anyway.)
Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is a bounty hunter (technically he’s not, but it seems to have pretty much the same job description) who finds himself in the Old West town of Rose Crick serving a warrant on some ornery cuss. While there, he learns from a local recent widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), that the meanest of all ruffians, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), has taken over the town through murder and terror. Chisolm is familiar with the name and, for a sizable bounty, agrees to stay and help. But, he will need a team.
Chisolm’s team begins with local gambler and drunk, Josh Farraday. Chris Pratt plays Farraday with so much charm and pizzazz, I had a hard time remembering that Farraday is not what I’d refer to as a “good person.” Some of the stuff coming out of Pratt’s mouth is not what people might deem politically correct, but somehow Pratt pulls the whole thing off because, well, he’s Chris Pratt. Pratt’s basically playing Han Solo, a character who is just in it for the money and some good one-liners. At one point Farraday asks an outlaw if he wants to see a magic trick. Farraday calls it the disappearing ear trick, then goes on to shoot the man’s ear off. (Somehow this movie is PG-13. I was shocked to learn that later.)
The rest of the team is made up of a former sharpshooter named Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, reuniting with Fuqua and Washington from Training Day); his knife wielding partner, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); an outlaw named Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); a Comanche warrior named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeir); and an alien from the planet XALEFGHERNOT, played by Vincent D’Onofrio.
That last sentence is a lie, but it’s my honest-to-goodness best explanation for what D’Onofrio is doing in this movie. There’s a scene where he’s twisting a knife into someone’s chest yelling, with a high-pitched voice, “Clear vision!” I have no idea what that means! He’s like this the whole movie. There should be classes taught on this performance. It’s like D’Onofrio saw the dailies of all the over-the-top performances and decided, “Boys, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Maybe D’Onofrio is an alien. Maybe he was just playing himself in Men in Black. It would just make so much more sense. But I don’t want it to make sense.
Once the team is together, they prepare for The Big Fight. And that’s the culmination of this kind of movie, isn’t it? The Big Fight. Who will live and who will die?
My gosh, this movie is so simple. It retroactively makes me more frustrated with Suicide Squad because, really, how do you mess this up? There’s a bad guy; then the slightly less bad guys team up to defeat the “badder” guy; The Big Fight happens. Most big movies today have so much plot. Where do all these contrived plots come from? When you look at movies with 17 credited writers, or whatever, that’s how that thing happens. All we want out of a movie like this are good characters and a simple story. And, yes, some good one-liners. Well, here it is. And you can hate or love True Detective‘s Nic Pizzolatto all you want (who co-wrote the script with Richard Wenk), but this does feel like a concise vision.
The Magnificent Seven is a shoot ‘em up Western. What you see is pretty much what you’re going to get. But, sometimes, that’s all a buckin’ desperado really wants.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.