The 21st century has seen a serious lack of westerns in theaters as they have gone out of style in favor of superhero films. So, who better to bring back the swagger than Antoine Fuqua, director of films like Training Day. This remake of the 1960’s movie stars Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm, Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday, Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne, Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, a Mexican, Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen and Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue, the film’s villain. What follows is a tale of good vs. evil in a western that’s more progressive and just down right fun.
The movie begins with Bartholomew Bogue terrorizing Rose City in the town church as the city had gathered to discuss what to do about his threats. He marches into the meeting, flanked by gunmen, and proceeds to preach his twisted version of religion. To him, America, capitalism and God go together, and to oppose him is to oppose all three of those things. It’s a distorted corruption of religion for the benefit of one man. It’s nothing new.
What makes the movie different than most is the way in which it counters the perversion of religion by showing true faith at work. In the center of Rose City stands the church, and because the pastor there is a man who firmly stands with the people of that city, the church is a beacon of hope. The pastor is willing to lay down his life for the people in the town, to help buy back their freedom. It’s a beautiful picture of faith in action.
There is one more nice dichotomy at work between these two world views. As Bartholomew Bogue makes his speech in the church, he talks about how the gold he is mining outside the town is the true meaning of life. In fact, it’s the thing that the townspeople will live for as well as their children. Yet, midway though the film, after the first wave of Bogue’s men have been driven from the town, there are a few nights of normalcy. The preacher talks to Sam Chisolm and thanks him for bringing back this simple pleasure to the people, if only for a moment. Life is so much more than gold in the bank–the true riches are the small moments between people that happen every day. Lastly, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne lives out John 15:13 as he mentions to the rest of the seven that there is no place he would rather be than in the service of others with men he respects.
Sam Chisolm and Goodnight Robicheaux have one of the most interesting relationships in the movie. Sam, a black man, saved Goodnight, a Rebel soldier from a group of Yankees who were going to beat him to death. Sam explains his reason to Goodnight by saying, “The war is over for us”. By the time of the movie, Sam and Goodnight are fast friends and they have this saying between then, “What we lost in the fire, we find in the ashes”. It is a timely reminder that after the wars we fight, we have to move on, learn the lessons of the past and work to rebuild, together, something better out of those ashes. There can be beauty from ashes, but it always takes work to make it so.