I grew up in the ’60s when there were only three channels on television.
That meant you had to watch what those three networks broadcast. Add to that your father dominating the television at night, which in my household meant I watched a lot of Westerns.
Because of this, I came to love Westerns. A bad Western is generally better than most good movies.
Antoine Fuqua directs a reboot of “The Magnificent Seven” based on the original done back in 1960, which was based on Akira Kurosawa’s classic film, “Seven Samurai.”
In this telling of the tale, the movie opens in a church in a small mining town. The people gather to express their concerns over the mine’s owner, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).
During the meeting, Bogue shows up to inform the people that God is on his side because he has the wealth to do what he wishes and that is a sign of God’s favor toward him.
Then Bogue exercises his power by killing a man in cold blood and then burning the church.
That man’s wife is Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and she goes on a mission to find guns to take on Bogue.
She encounters Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter, and sees him take down a man wanted for murder. She asks for his help.
Cullen tells Chisolm that Bogue has killed innocents – one of which was her husband. He asks her if she seeks revenge. “I seek righteousness,” she replies. “But I’ll take revenge.”
What follows is the rounding up of a diverse bunch of men who will take on Bogue and his army.
There is a gambler (Chris Pratt) and a Civil War veteran who is a sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), as well as an Asian (Byung-hun Lee) who is skilled with a knife, a Mexican gunfighter (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), an ex-Indian fighter (Vincent D’Onofrio) and a Comanche (Martin Sensmeier).
The group rides off to face the man with deep pockets and all his hired guns. What follows is easily recognized if you know either of the movies this one is based upon.
So, what claim does this movie have that the others do not?
Not much, but this movie does have a subtext of the Christian ideal. Yes, the cast is diverse, but the lessons it wishes to teach are clearly biblical.
The villain wraps himself up in the Protestant work ethic and the idea of Manifest Destiny.
It is clear that he believes that his might is God’s blessing upon him and that he has all the rights to do as he sees fit.
Add to that the fact that he is enriching many lives along the way (all except the townsfolk), and you get a picture of God only being on the side of the rich.
Anyone that has even a causal understanding of the Bible knows that is not the God of the Bible. All one has to do is read the prophecy of Amos to see God’s love and concern for the poor.
There is also the setting of the church at the center of the town.
That is the way of the past. The church is not central any longer. It is just a part of the landscape that many pass and do not think much of or about. I wondered if the movie is trying to say something about the relevancy of the church?
One of the things that bothered me was the use of the church as a place to kill others. The steeple becomes the location for shooters to bear down on the hired guns of Bogue.
This makes the church like any other place in town. There is nothing sacred or separate to it. That was not a good choice for me.
Is this a great movie? Not by a long shot, but it is not a bad movie either.
It has something to say to those of us who claim Christ about our tendency to see those of means as being better than others.
I am reminded of the admonition in James 2 that we not be respecter of persons. We need not let the rich man have the seat of honor while making the poor man sit at our feet.
Our striving should be to treat all people with respect and honor.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto, based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni.
Cast: Denzel Washington: Sam Chisolm; Chris Pratt: Josh Faraday; Ethan Hawke: Goodnight Robicheaux; Vincent D’Onofrio: Jack Horne; Byung-hun Lee: Billy Rocks; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: Vasquez; Martin Sensmeir: Red Harvest; Haley Bennett: Emma Cullen; Peter Sarsgaard: Batholomew Bogue.
The movie’s website is here.