2 Stars – Vengeance
In the genre of brutal vengeance, The Magnificent Seven is an exemplary film. We have a villain sufficiently evil to require our anger. We have a damsel in distress sufficiently alluring so as to get seven unlikely gunslingers to come to her aid. In addition we have the complexity of past evils that need to be righted, troubled souls who are tired of the killing, and male bonding around violence and we end up with Antoine Fuqua’s film. Having directed Denzel Washington in similarly brutal but morally ambivalent Training Day and The Equalizer, Antoine follows a proven storyline that allows his star to feast on our manipulated vengeance in the end. However, it needs to be said that in this film Washington does so with a polish and personal agenda that adds a deeper dimension to the tale as Washington also works with a remarkable ensemble cast.
The story begins in a small mountain valley where gold has been discovered. The quiet, church-going people who are farming the land are being squeezed out by the psychopathic and greedy mine owner, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsqaard). Having done this before in Kansas, Bogue is even more brash and cruel now as he enters their church and gives them an ultimatum. But when one young husband argues back Bogue kills him in cold blood and tell the sheriff, who is in his employee, to leave the bodies to motivate the others to leave. What he had not counted on was that the young man’s widow, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) is a fiery Irish woman who gathers all she has and goes in search of a redeemer. She happens across the path of an unusually skilled, independent lawman and bounty hunter named Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington).
At first ignoring her pleas, when he hears that it is Bogue who has perpetrated this injustice, he gathers a ragtag team who go to do the impossible and try to set the town free. True to the genre, this unlikely group bond together and inspire the town folk to fight. The team consists of Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Fulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
The central moral question occurs when Emma is asked by Chisolm if all she is seeking is vengeance for her husband’s murder. Her answer is perhaps the theme of the film when she says: “I am seeking righteousness. But I will take revenge.” It is that simple but deadly slip from being the victim of violence into being a murderer that multiplies the evil into all the hearts of the town. This seems to be the seduction that people and nations fall for when evil takes their beloved. To live for righteousness and yet fall for vengeance turns a church into a charred execution chamber as we see in the final moments of the film. That is a clear message we all need to heed.
- The greed that motivates not only Bogue but the sheriff and the army who go with him to kill a whole town is alarming. Yet greed often comes into our lives in ways that are not so obvious but just as deadly. How do you withstand the degradation that greed and vengeance do to your soul?
- When we discover what really happened to Chisolm and his family long before this, we then understand why he took on this impossible task. Have you ever experienced such a devastating attack on you or your family or nation? How did you respond to the opportunity to “get even”?
- The use of the church as a cinematic background was powerful. What did you think of the portrayal of the pastor and people? What would you have done had you been in that town facing that situation?