They didn’t call it the Tame West. The Polite West. The Genteel, Stick-Your-Pinky-Finger-Out-When-You’re-Drinking-Earl-Gray West. No sir. It was the Wild West. Wild as a bobcat raised on habaneros and espresso. You had to be tough to live out there—tough enough to deal with heat and drought and rattlesnakes and varmints and bandits and rustlers and hustlers and murderers. You had to rely on your lonesome out there. And if you ran into something tougher and meaner than you, that was just too bad. Ain’t no one gonna help you.
Well, most of the time, that is.
The fine people of Rose Creek are tough—tough enough to move out there with just the clothes on their backs and the dreams in their souls. They worked the land and built the town and hoped to turn it into their own hardscrabble heaven.
But then gold was discovered in them thar hills, and Bartholomew Bogue moved in next door. The ruthless mining tycoon doesn’t care a whit about workers or property rights. He’s got a profit to turn. And if someone dares stand in his way, he’ll make sure they won’t stand for long. So he marches into Rose Creek and demands the townspeople turn over their land to him: He’ll pay 20 bucks per parcel and won’t take no for an answer. And just to show he means business, he and his goons shoot six men dead before riding out of town.
But Emma Cullen, newly widowed, isn’t ready to pack her things just yet. Her husband may be dead—shot in cold blood by the mining mogul—but her spirit’s still alive and kicking. She wants to fight back. But how?
Emma finds just the man she needs in a dusty saloon out yonder. The hombre, dressed in black like death himself, walks in and starts talking to the barkeep. Next thing you know, the barkeep—a wanted man, turns out—is lying dead on the floor of his own saloon. Other itchy trigger-fingered patrons suffer some new wounds too. The man’s name is Chisolm—a “warrant officer” he says, a glorified name for a bounty hunter. Emma asks him if he’s looking for work and offers everything the town has in payment.
“I’ve been offered a lot for my work, but never everything,” he says. And when she mentions the villain’s name, Bartholomew Bogue, Chisolm is ready to sign up.
But Emma knows that once Bogue gets word that Rose Creek is fighting back, he won’t just send a handful of men: He’s rich enough and mean enough to send an army. And while Chisolm may be mighty fluent in lead, he ain’t that good. One man can’t defend the town alone.
But what about seven?
As this remade film’s title suggests, Emma eventually hires seven tough-as-nails desperados to tackle the town’s Bogue problem. Now, mind you, none of these men are good men. But they do come together to do what is ultimately a good thing. “They fought for the souls who couldn’t fight for themselves,” we’re told. Chisolm tells them right up front that “probably we all die.” And yet, for some reason, they’re willing to team up to fight on behalf of Emma and her town’s cause.
The Magnificent Seven begins in a church, ends in a church and features a lot of surprisingly spiritual talk all the way through.
Townspeople meet inside the church to debate what to do about Pogue’s nearby mine. Bogue struts in with his armed men. “This is the Lord’s house—no place for guns,” the pastor says, but to no avail. One man spits tobacco on the floor while Pogue stands in front of the congregation. “This country has long associated freedom with capitalism,” he says, “and capitalism with God!” He argues that it is thus their God-given duty to turn over their land to him for a pittance of what it’s worth. When things get heated, he herds the crowd out of the church and sets the building alight.
There’s a showdown in that burned-out shell, the cross still shining starkly from one of the walls. One man says a prayer in Latin. Another seems uncomfortable with the idea of taking life in a holy place, taking off his hat and bowing nervously before entering.
While most of the town’s seven defenders aren’t religious men, Jack Horne is an obvious and vocal exception. He’s portrayed as a wee bit off his nut: His theology is off, but his religious fervor is unmistakable. Horne kills two people upon meeting up with Chisolm’s posse, claiming the right “by the Lord and by the law.” He prays regularly and loudly. He quotes Bible verses, slaughtering people as he recites Psalm 23. He promises to pray for one of his enemies. “A little prayer,” he amends. He asks God, “Lord keep me from judgment.” He thanks God for “the strength that you’ve given me” and prays for wisdom and judgment.
There’s a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, a mention of praying for forgiveness and a Catholic confession. A pastor prays over dead bodies. Before a massive battle, the pastor preaches and prays over the seven and the other townspeople who’ve gathered at the burned-out husk of a church, quoting Jesus from Matthew 18:20: “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I’ll be there.” The hotel in town is called the Elysium Hotel, referencing an ancient Greek understanding of heaven.
Most of the women we see in The Magnificent Seven appear to be prostitutes, wearing various garments that look like bulky lingerie, designed to accentuate the bust and hips, as well as showcasing cleavage and legs. One of them rubs the shoulders of Josh Faraday, a gambler who joins Chisolm’s crew.
Emma, of course, is not a prostitute, but she does wear outfits that emphasize her chest. And when she first speaks to Chisolm, he suspects that he’s going to offer him her sexual services. “I have a proposition for you,” she says. “I’m aware of your propositions, Miss,” he responds.
New members of the party sometimes leer at Emma, and Faraday tries flirtatiously to teach her how to shoot. She already knows how to fire a gun quite well, turns out, explaining that she had a father. “I didn’t,” Faraday admits.
A woman stitches up Jack Horne’s bedraggled clothes. Vasquez, another of the seven, suggests since the woman just talked to Jack about “stitching and poking,” he should return the favor (earning ribald laughter from the rest of the group).
The Magnificent Seven is a bloodbath. Hundreds of people die during the film. And while lip service is occasionally paid to how difficult it is to kill—and how the horrors of the act will haunt the killer forever—good guys and bad guys alike seem to take that life without any more thought or sadness than you or I might swat a mosquito.
Most fatalities come at the end of a bullet (or several of them). Many of these demises are relatively bloodless and/or take place at some distance from the camera. Still, bodies pile up like mulching wood chips in a garden.
Other folks are shot full of arrows or sliced with knives. Several people die at the barrel of a Gatling gun, many others are blown up with explosives. One guy gets thwacked in the back with an axe. A few victims are shot in the head, leaving little bullet holes in the middle of their foreheads. Near the movie’s opening, when Pogue kills a half-dozen men in cold blood, he tells the sheriff he’s paid off to “leave the bodies where they lie. Let them look at them a few days.” Corpses are sometimes bloodied and bruised, open eyes staring sightless.
Faraday shoots a someone’s brother dead, then shoots the man’s ear off. We see bits of flesh on the ground as he clutches the side of his head, whimpering in pain. A man cuts open the middle of a dead deer and pulls out its liver: Two men take bites of the organ as part of a makeshift breakfast. Several people survive bloody wounds. Someone else is nearly strangled. Children are imperiled. A decaying corpse sits in a cabin: Another person living there insists he didn’t kill the guy, but he clearly didn’t trouble himself to bury the smelly body. Plenty of horses fall and presumably die via bullet or explosion, too.
We also hear that someone’s mother was raped and his sisters were killed.
There are seven s-words uttered in the movie. God’s name is misused about 10 times, half of those with the word “d–n.” We’re also pelted with a shotgun smattering of other profanities including “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p-ss.” Emma says that she hired Chisolm because she was the only one in town with the manly fortitude to do so (using a slang term for the male anatomy).
Faraday drinks almost constantly in the movie, swigging from hooch bottles and saloon glassware. Another member of the crew, Billy Rocks, gets drunk after a friend of his leaves. Other folks get tipsy. Many smoke cigars and cigarettes.
Faraday is a gambler who always carries a deck of cards. He takes advantage of a fracas to scoop up cash, gold, pocket watches and a bottle of liquor.
Chisolm’s crew is comprised of a mishmash of people from different races and backgrounds. And while some of the seven take not-so-serious jabs at each other based on their looks or nationality (Vasquez tells Goodnight, another member of the posse that it’s possible his grandfather might’ve killed Goodnight’s father at the Alamo), the way others look at them as they ride into town is downright hostile.
When Emma first tells Chisolm about Bogue and the calamity that’s befallen Rose Creek, adding that her husband was one of those killed, Chisolm figures he knows what Emma wants: revenge.
“I seek righteousness,” Emma corrects him. “But I’ll take revenge.”
And so we have the ethical tightrope that The Magnificent Seven tries to walk.
This violent remake presents its seven stars as flawed heroes—bad men with good hearts who sacrifice themselves to deal with even worse men. But as much as I wanted that to be true, and as much as I appreciated the movie’s old-fashioned, gun-twirling, sharpshooting moxie, I was bothered by the flippancy with which this movie dealt with death.
Both Magnificent Seven movies—this one and the 1960 classic starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, were based on another classic film—Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. In Kurosawa’s original work, the heroes are also flawed warriors tasked with defending an otherwise defenseless village from rampaging bandits. The movie’s heroes are ronin, freelance Samurai without masters—the equivalent of Chisolm’s Old West vagabonds.
But in Seven Samurai, the samurai rarely take life without a sense of sober responsibility. And in the end, the film feels much like a tragedy. The village has been saved, but at a fearsome cost. “So,” the leader says. “Again we are defeated. The farmers have won. Not us.”
There are hints of that cost in this version. And we, as viewers, are encouraged to mourn fallen heroes and contemplate their sacrifice. But that introspection is relatively rare in this Western romp. More often, this death-dealing feels like a game.
Admittedly, this Magnificent Seven is meant to be a popcorn-munching diversion. It’s supposed to be fun. And it is, to a point. But the sheer body count here—four-to-five times higher than we see in Seven Samurai or the 1960 flick—is unseemly.
And even though Chisolm insists that they “go to fight wicked men,” many of the pawns in Bogue’s employ are, presumably, just hired hands—not the hardened bandits and criminals we see in previous iterations. Some scenes can feel almost sadistic, too, heroes practically torturing admittedly bad men in an effort to punish them commensurate with their evil deeds. In those moments, The Magnificent Seven feels less like righteousness—even bloody righteousness—and more like revenge.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.