The Brutal Morality of The Magnificent Seven

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There is a brutal morality in the newest version of The Magnificent Seven.

In the opening scene we are introduced to the villain, Bartholomew Bogue, a villain driven by greed and a desire of money, power and legacy. Mr. Bogue is almost too evil. So deplorable is his treatment of the townsfolk of Rose Creek that it gives you an almost visceral reaction. After watching the first scene all you want is to see him face justice, I wanted it so bad that it was practically irrational. The violence he causes is brutal and chaotic. His henchmen have no moral code and kill indiscriminately and neither does he.

This first scene acts as the inciting incident for the story to come, but it also establishes a balance in the world of The Magnificent Seven. This balance is the balance between good and evil, the wicked and the righteous.

“We go to fight wicked men.” – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington)

(l to r) Vincent D'Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee star in Columbia Pictures' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.
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The titular Magnificent Seven, who are led by Sam Chisolm, are the righteous to Bartholomew Bogue’s wicked. But like the opening scene suggests, the seven’s righteousness is a brutal one, just like Bogue’s wickedness is a brutal one. The magnificent seven are righteous men because they do wicked things but they do them for good and Bogue and his men are wicked men because they do wicked things for evil.

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For instance, Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is threatened by two men he cheated in a card game, they hold him up at gunpoint. Pratt kills the first guy, out of self-defense, then he has his gun against the second guy’s face, he shows that man mercy, which makes him righteous.

It is in this way that The Magnificent Seven creates this brutal morality where murder is justified so long as it is not the murder of the innocent. This is why the Rose Creek townsfolk are ultimately the most righteous characters in this movie, because of they are innocent in all of this.

Martin Sensmeier  stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.
Martin Sensmeier stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Each member of the magnificent seven toes this line between righteous and wicked and because of this there is an immediate bond that forms between them. They are all veterans of one war or another and they respect that in each other. This is played out quite well in the film and it’s one of the reasons why the film is so compelling.

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But this movie isn’t perfect. For one, there are some cheesy moments, like the exchange between Pratt and Washington during the battle scene,

Denzel: “…We’re even, for the horses, you don’t owe me anything.”

Pratt: “You owe me something.”

Denzel: “What?”

Pratt: “Cover.”

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Also, Goodnight Robicheaux’s (Ethan Hawke) departure and eventual return is so predictable and cliché. It’s almost so predictable that the movie doesn’t even really care about it. Hawke is gone for a total of 15 minutes of the movie and yt doesn’t add any dramatic tension because it was just too predictable and cliché.

Also, did anyone notice that they tried to shoehorn Billy The Kid in to this movie? Because every western has to feature some nod to Billy The-freaking-Kid, that was just ridiculous.

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Overall, the acting in this movie is excellent; it is a major Hollywood motion picture with an A-list cast so that is to be expected. But what really surprised me (and may not surprise you) is that I loved Chris Pratt in this role. As of late I have gotten a bit of Chris Pratt exhaustion, most of it coming from Jurassic World, but I really loved him in this movie. He has the Clint Eastwood grimace down and he puts on a pretty good old timey western accent. He just seems to fit into the setting so well, it seems like he always has dirt smudged all over his face which is kind of what the actors looked like in all of the old westerns, so he stood out to me.

Towards the end of the movie, the face off between the righteous and the wicked begins, but weirdly this is when the thematic elements kind of get lost. The movie becomes less of a battle between good and evil and more about glory and heroism.

In the original Seven Samurai, the battle takes days. Wave after wave of bandits attack and the Samurai and the townsfolk are almost wiped out. But the battle scenes in this movie seem to take place over the course of the morning. This does a lot to minimize the struggle we should feel if it were a battle between good and evil and I guess this is why those themes are condensed into heroism and glory-worship.

The filmmakers decide to make the final confrontation between Bogue and Chisolm, the archetypes of good and evil in this movie, be based on a personal conflict rather than the grand ideas of the wicked and the righteous. We’ve been getting hints about Chisolm’s motivation to fight against Bogue throughout the movie and this is sort of where it all pays off.

So it turns out that Bough murdered Chisolm’s family, which is why he agreed to take on the fight in the first place. This kind of undercuts the idea of the battle between good and evil in the film since Chisolm lied to each of the seven men so he could seek revenge rather than just fighting for what is right.

And in the end it isn’t Chisolm who kills Bogue and saves the town it is Emma Cullen. Because Chisolm and the rest of the magnificent seven aren’t really righteous in this story, it is the innocent townsfolk who are righteous ones. Which pretty much matches up with the two prior films endings.

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I haven’t been doing a lot of reviews of big budget, Hollywood films so if you liked this one please let me know! As always thanks for reading and please like, comment and follow.

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