Antoine Fuqua’s solid updating of The Magnificent Seven is a good time at the movies, an easily digestible modern Western that isn’t interested in anything else other than providing two hours of comfortable, great-looking entertainment. Denzel Washington is excellent, as usual, and leads a very sturdy ensemble cast, with Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, and a nearly unrecognizable and absolutely hysterical Vincent D’Onofrio as the standouts. Peter Sarsgaard twirls his literal and figurative mustache as the slimy, happily vicious baddie, and Haley Bennett makes for an extremely fetching frontierswoman who isn’t afraid of picking up a gun and getting down and dirty. The conventional screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk doesn’t offer up anything in the way of surprise but works fine enough; their rendition is content to be serviceable and traditional, with some punchy one-liners thrown in for good measure. But what impressed me the most about this film, other than James Horner’s final, rousing score (with an assist from Simon Franglen), was the fantastic cinematography by long-time Fuqua collaborator Mauro Fiore (Training Day, The Island, Avatar). Every smoky, dusty, and burnished image in this big-budget oater looks splendid, with Fuqua and Fiore trading off of classic cinematic Western iconography, and it was refreshing to see a film shot and cut with a classical eye for coherence and space.
The explosions were all noticeably free of unnecessary CGI, and for a PG-13 film, it must be said — this new Magnificent Seven is wildly violent with a massive body count, including the graphic killing of a woman in a key dramatic moment. Yes, all of it is relatively bloodless, and nothing is lingered upon for too long, but holy WOW a lot of people got shot to bits in this film. The final act is essentially one massive battle, with the destruction of an entire balsa-wood town, and it’s in these moments that Fuqua and his surly cast clearly had a ball. Some of the action beats felt reminiscent of Fuqua’s underappreciated King Arthur, which, for my money, still features one of the coolest battle scenes in recent memory (the fight on the frozen lake). There’s nothing revelatory or overwhelmingly amazing about this new incarnation of the classic material, and yet, it all goes down smooth and sports an itchy trigger finger, and is likely the best overall effort from Fuqua since his superb and deeply underrated policier Brooklyn’s Finest. This is a film where the commanding performances and the phenomenal aesthetic package rule the day, and for fans of this longstanding milieu, the fact that there’s a gorgeous looking new widescreen Western up on the big screen should be reason enough to smile.