I usually don’t go for Westerns. Well, actually, they have to be one (or more) of three things: they are bending the rules of the Western to a ridiculous degree, involve a rarely-discussed racial angle, or I have to watch them for a film class. (Because I was forced to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Tombstone for a high school film class, they are two of my favorites, the latter of which because it’s a good film and as a kid, the title made me want some Tombstone pizza). Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is certainly falling in line with the type of Westerns I like to watch.
This iteration of The Magnificent Seven already looks like it’s going to be a gem of a movie. The 1960 original was, if we’re going by the cast, was marginally ahead of its time, since the film revolved around a group of gunslingers hired to protect a Mexican town and the cast included the likes of Yul Brynner in the lead role, Jorge Martínez de Hoyos, Rosenda Monteros, Rico Alaniz, Pepe Hern, Natividad Vacio, Mario Navarro, and Danny Bravo (who, as Jonny Quest fanatics would know, became the voice of young Hadji). Notice the key word “marginally,” though; this film still had brownface with Eli Wallach playing the Magnificent Seven’s enemy, Calvera, and Horst Buchholz as Chico (presumably Buchholz’s first big Hollywood role, going by the trailer, showing that Hollywood has always historically preferred white unknowns over brown unknown or even brown experienced actors).
Fast forward to 2016’s The Magnificent Seven. First, there’s a black director. That’s already a change of pace. Fuqua, known for Training Day, Southpaw, The Equalizer, and Olympus Has Fallen, has already injected new, energetic life into the film, which is now about helping a woman seek vengeance for her husband’s death.
The film’s cast has also been brought up to the 21st century. To be honest, the cast is probably more accurate to how the West actually was, since there were of course, Native Americans, freed or runaway slaves, Chinese railroad laborers, and Mexican villagers. This iteration of The Magnificent Seven includes Denzel Washington as the leader, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer, and Jonathan Joss. (Note: Lee himself is Korean, but there’s no indication if his character is Korean or if his character’s background will even be mentioned.)
Here’s more about the film:
Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures’ and Columbia Pictures’ The Magnificent Seven. With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.
I’m excited to see this film, despite my penchant for putting my hands over my ears during shoot-em-up movies. It’s been rare when Hollywood has embraced a multicultural film directed by a non-white director. This film not only gives Washington more time to shine, but it also puts the spotlight on Lee, Sensmeier (I’ve been waiting on seeing him a big film!) and Garcia-Rulfo, who are still up-and-comers in the business and, in the cases of Lee and Sensmeier in particularly, have and will find it difficult to secure tons of work in Hollywood’s still-racist casting system. The fact that Lee, a Korean box-office draw whose been in many Korean and American films over the course of the past few years, is still considered “up-and-coming” by Hollywood standards, is evidence to how little Lee has been given to do in the Hollywood films he’s been in.
Of course, there’s no knowing what the script is like until we see the full movie. I could be doing all of this talking and Sensmeier or Lee’s characters, Red Harvest and Billy Rocks, hardly ever speak and then they get killed off. Pratt’s Josh Farraday could end up having to avenge the death of Washington’s Sam Chisolm or something. I don’t know. But as of right now, The Magnificent Seven is changing the way blockbusters look, and it’s about time Hollywood accepts the new molds of the Leading Man.
The Magnificent Seven will hit theaters Sept. 23.