Remaking a classic among classic films is where most directors should fear to tread. In remaking The Magnificent Seven, one of the most recognized American Westerns and is itself a reimagining of one of the greatest films in all of Cinema, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Antoine Fuqua proves his fearlessness.
The Magnificent Seven effectively combines the best of Westerns past and present, an array of strong characters with checkered pasts, magnificent scenery, an against all odds story, witty banter, and sound effects that put you in the middle of all the action. Also crucial to Westerns is an unforgettable musical score that complements the majestic cinematography and action. No Western and few film scores equal Elmer Bernstein’s famous music from the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven, which in many ways served as the 8thand most magnificent character. The spirit of Bernstein’s supreme achievement is felt through the James Horner and Simon Franglen score (Franglen completed Horner’s composition following his 2015 death.) As with the 1960 version, The Magnificent Seven has a strong cast that all give very solid performances. Director Antoine Fuqua intentionally made the cast of the seven diverse, not only to reflect the times of today but to reflect the diversity of the film’s setting, the late 1800’s.
The Magnificent Seven shares the same storyline as the previous “Sevens” where a town of hapless, ill-equipped farmers hires a band of misfit but supremely talented outlaws to help them stand and fight for their town against a mercenary army of thugs and villains. Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a legendary bounty hunter with a past, who agrees to accept the pleas of town spokesperson and newest widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) when he hears the notoriously vicious industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) was the murderer and leader. As a bounty hunter Chisolm knows who’s who among the territory’s criminals and gunfighters and recruits six others to join the against all odds endeavor. While they are promised “everything” by the town’s people, it’s either the challenge or the opportunity for redemption that calls them.
While not a faith film, God is referenced throughout The Magnificent Seven. As has become somewhat commonplace in films in recent years, much of the violence occurs in and around the church. In what has to be the most juxtaposed homage in film history, The Magnificent Seven opens with the townspeople of Rose Creek debating the fate of their town against the onslaught of Bartholomew Bogue and his gang, not unlike the townspeople of Rock Ridge lamenting the demise of their fair town in Blazing Saddles. Unlike Rock Ridge, however, there are no Johnsons, or “Revry,” in Rose Creek, but there is danger, greed, and evil that descends upon the meeting with deadly consequences. The film concludes in and around the town’s church. In between, there are references to God’s will, strength, and fecklessness.
Following in the steps of Pale Rider, The Searchers, High Plains Drifter, among others, The Magnificent Seven shows the uneasy place faith and the Church had in the West and has in much of society today. While the Emmanuel Church occupies the center of the town, the presentation of Church, and God, throughout much of The Magnificent Seven is anything but central to life in the West. In contrast to the meaning of the name of the church, God is not believed by many townspeople to be “with us,” and is most often presented as either vacant and or out of date and place.
As is often the case, films reflect societal beliefs, ways of being, and ways of living. As is so often encountered today among persons in and outside of faith, there is a lot of bad theology in The Magnificent Seven. There is the typical “If God had intended…”, and “It is God’s will…” Some of such statements and like actions in the film are mocking God, others just misunderstand God.
When trying to convince Chisolm to accept their offer and plea, Emma Cullen states why and what she is seeking,” I seek righteousness. But I’ll take revenge.” Whether or not recognized, such is the sentiment of many persons of faith today. Christ calls to love one’s enemy and to resist returning evil for evil. Christ teaches that it is better to suffer than retaliate. Yet such teaching is hard to follow when put to the test in the “real world” as constructed by society.
In a time when a prominent evangelical pastor states, in order to support a political candidate, that one who follows the Sermon on the Mount is unfit to serve as President of the United States, one sees how hard it is to follow the teachings of Christ. While this statement is more explicit than most folks would recognize or admit, it is a sentiment many if not most in society, including the Church accept.
When seeing this reflection of our society in this film, one has to realize how close our society, including the faithful, is to the setting of the film, when the church and teaching of her Lord were centrally located in the town, but not truly central in the life of the Town’s people.
Yet, there are in the film, as in the world and in the community of faith, glimpses of the grace and hope that are central to the life and teaching of Christ. And, as is often the case with the followers of Christ, it is the community where such is often experienced when characters face their crises of faith and character.
Although Emma was willing if not wanting to take revenge, she becomes, if not an instrument of righteousness, a protector of another from a profane and ultimate act of revenge that likely would have led to the death of the character’s soul if not body.
Chisolm, in what is a guiding principal in his life, states on several occasions, “what was lost in the fire is found in the ashes.” In The Magnificent Seven, as in life, much is lost. But, for those who accept the Gospel and follow the teachings and life of Christ, there is also grace, redemption, life, and hope found in the cross.
The Magnificent Seven is rated PG-13 for violence