September 18, 2007

REVIEW: 3:10 to Yuma (A-)

Background: As a genre, Westerns have been relatively nonexistent the last 10 years. Unforgiven , after winning Best Picture in 1993, "spurred" the production of Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Open Range, (sadly) Wild, Wild West, and a handful of others, none of which were blockbusters. I can't even think of the last one I saw (Brokeback Mountain doesn't fit my criteria and I missed The Premonition). So here comes James Mangold (Walk the Line) hoping to revive the modern day Western by remaking the 1957 classic 3:10 to Yuma, which I also have not seen. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe star, with bit parts by Gretchen Mol and Peter Fonda. Incredibly, IMDB reports Eric Bana and Tom Cruise were originally sought after for the main parts, which would have made for a completely different, really bad movie.

Synopsis: In late-1800's Arizona, down-on-his luck rancher Dan Evans (Bale) and his two sons witness the hold-up of an armored wagon (yes, an armored wagon) on its way to a bank delivery. The gang responsible is led by Ben Wade (Crowe), a legendary outlaw. Evans assists in the capture of Wade and negotiates a contract to join the escort team that will deliver Wade to the train depot in Bisby, to catch the "3:10 to Yuma" where he will be tried and hanged. The two day journey provides moments of humor and horror as the escorts (soon joined by Evans' teenage son) evade Wade's gang, Apache Indians, and each other as they reach their destination. Wade, for his part, does as much as he can to get into Evans' head and convince him he has made all the wrong decisions in his life. The finale finds Evans torn between his choices as both the train and Wade's gang approach Bisby.

I Loved:
+ The performances of Bale and Crowe.
+ The production design - seen on the big screen, almost all of your senses are stimulated by the feeling of being in 19th-century Arizona.

I Liked:
+ The excellent musical score, especially at the end.

I Disliked:
- The number of bullets fired at Evans that conveniently miss their mark.
- Luke Wilson's performance - what was he doing in this?

I Hated:
- The number of people shot at point-blank range - these don't need to be so graphically shown for me to get the idea.
- The creepy guy on the escort team singing the "hanging" song - was anyone sad to see him go?

Writing = 10/10
Acting = 10/10
Production = 10/10
Emotional Impact = 8/10
Music = 4/5
Significance = 3/5

Total: 45/50 = 90% = A-

Last Word: In addition to his performances in two other movies in just the last year
(Rescue Dawn, The Prestige), Christian Bale is firmly establishing himself as one of my favorite actors. Truly an acting talent, he has especially impressed me with his different accents. Russell Crowe, in the meantime, has also shown the amazing range he has in continually unique roles (The Insider, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind). Both of them are excellent in 3:10 to Yuma (as is Ben Foster). I would recommend it for fans of dramatic Westerns and action movies in general. The gunplay is brutally violent, probably more so than it needs to be, and there are some cliches that may be holdovers from the original writing in 1957. Nevertheless, you should leave the theater affected by Bale's character, as the decisions he is forced to make will stay with you. I think James Mangold has succeeded with this - watch for big-budget Westerns to reemerge in the next few years. By the way, isn't the Old West a romantic idea, if you ignore all the inconveniences? Talk about the simple life - tend your cattle, make campfires, and enjoy unpolluted air and technological silence.

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