We all know the story: a wicked bully terrorizes poor farmers, and the plucky hero rises up to defeat him. In the classic 1960 film The Magnificent Seven, the bully is a bandit, ravaging a Mexican village. The 2016 reboot takes place in America, and the villain is — you guessed it, the greedy capitalist Robber Baron. This trope turns a rather fantastic film into a screed against capitalism and the actual truth of what happened in the 1800s.
“This country has long equated democracy with capitalism, and capitalism with God,” declares the cartoonish Bartholomew Bogue (played by Peter Sarsgaard, Jarhead 2005). Upon the mention of his name, one of the heroes immediately asks, “the Robber Baron?”
Bogue is the consummate villain — willing to bring guns into a church and force people to sell their land at gunpoint so he can turn their farms into mines. In one supposedly heroic scene, our heroes actually “liberate” a mine, killing the overseers and telling the workers (who seem no less than enslaved) that they are “free to go.” Conditions were bad in the Old West — don’t get me wrong — but miners suddenly deprived of a job would not likely be happy to be “liberated.”
Bogue is indeed a caricature, straight out of the false narrative of the 1800s as a time of Robber Barons, whose monopolies fleeced the common man and held back progress. In truth, most of the hated capitalists — Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and others — made their fortunes by cutting costs, and outperforming the government-backed competitors who tried to kick them out of the market. (For more on this, read Burton Folsom’s fantastic The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America.)
Nevertheless, The Magnificent Seven lives up to the title in many ways. The action is thrilling, the scenery and cinematography stunning, and the score lively and moving. It is an excellent film, and it uses its star power well.
The narrative revolves around the central hero, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington, Training Day 2001), a mysterious bounty hunter with a harrowing backstory. He assembles an all-star team, including the gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy 2014), the sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, Gattaca 1997), the assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee, I Saw the Devil 2010), the outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cake 2014), and the mysterious Native American Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier, Lilin’s Brood 2016).
The main cast’s racial diversity is a selling-point for the film, but most of the characters are stock, with the notable exceptions of Chisolm and the tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, Men in Black, 1997). Chris Pratt is … Chris Pratt, hilarious, silly, and intelligent. The stock Indian and the stock Asian fill their roles well, but all too predictably.
Much of the plot is also predictable, but just when you think you know what will happen, things take a turn. It’s a classic hero story, but don’t expect it to be too clear-cut.
Next Page: Should you bring the kids? The real extent of violence in The Magnificent Seven.
The Magnificent Seven is rated PG-13 for intense Western violence, for historical smoking, some language, and some suggestive material. To be honest, the suggestive material is very slight. The biggest concern for children is probably the violence, which — while not too graphic — is nonetheless excessive. The bodycount is impressive, if slightly unbelievable.
At the end of the day, The Magnificent Seven delivers exactly what its audience craves — action, an immersive Western setting, a compelling story (if predictable at times), and let’s be honest, more action. The characters are at their strongest when finding innovative ways to kill people — all of whom tried to kill them first. A fun and violent romp, the movie nonetheless has strong moral themes, with more than a few Bible verses quoted at key plot points.
All the same, Hollywood could have spent a lot more time making the villain more believable, and less a stock capitalist out of the mind of Bernie Sanders. No, businessmen are not really out to steal your land and kill you — the key point of capitalism is wealth creation by serving others, and coming up with less expensive ways to provide goods and services.
While free markets are still not entirely the reality across the world, a reasonable observer might expect that the unprecedented wealth of the 21st century would have kicked this idea into the most stubborn of heads, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about.
Check out the trailer on the next page!