Friday, October 05, 2007

3:10 to Yuma / **** (R)

Dan Evans: Christian Bale
Ben Wade: Russell Crowe
William Evans: Logan Lerman
Charles Prince: Ben Foster
Grayson Butterfield: Dallas Roberts
Doc Porter: Alan Tudyk
Alice Evans: Gretchen Mol
Byron McElroy: Peter Fonda

Lionsgate Films presents a film directed by James Mangold. Written by Halsted Welles and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas, based on the short story by Elmore Leonard. Running time: 117 min. Rated R (for violence and some language).

Can an art form die? Every time a western makes its way off the Hollywood ranch, the industry periodicals and websites are inevitably flooded with articles about the unfortunate death of the genre. What happened to the western? Where did the American frontier go? Will this be the film to revive the western as a bankable genre?

Well, with this belated critique of the recent western “3:10 to Yuma” and considering the “if you blinked, you missed it” release of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, I can safely say that the western remains dead in most people’s eyes. “3:10” hasn’t done terribly at the box office considering it is a western—more than a month after release it’s still in the top five—but it hasn’t shattered the industry standards.

I take this lackluster response to these western films to be both a good and a bad thing. It’s bad because a lot of people are missing out on some pretty damn good filmmaking. But as a fan of the genre, I’m not really sure I would like to see a resurgence in its popularity. The western is one of our country’s few purely American art forms. As such, it has lived a life much like a person’s. When it was young it wanted to get out there and experience life, and for a time it was the life of the party. But as it got older, it got wiser. It wanted more out of life and started to take stands and make statements. The western began to polarize its once universal audience, and soon only those who wanted to hear its message were listening. Now, it has become a wise, old sage that only comes out every once in a while to say something in a profound and graceful manner.

“3:10 to Yuma” is like the best of both westerns, the classic youthful, spunky one and the thoughtful, wise elder that will teach you the secret to a good life if you are just willing to sit and listen. “3:10” is actually a remake of the 1957 Glenn Ford classic based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. The ’57 version is generally considered to be a solid western that stands as a classic example of the genre. This new one, by “Walk the Line” director James Mangold, builds upon the rock solid premise of Leonard’s story and offers a insightful look into what makes a good man good, what makes a bad man bad, and what connects these men in a collective existence.

Christian Bale (“Batman Begins”) plays Dan Evans, a down and out rancher who is struggling through debt and draught to keep his family fed, his cattle healthy and the impending railroad from taking his land. While rounding up his scattered herd with his two boys, Dan stumbles upon a stagecoach robbery by the famous outlaw Ben Wade and his large gang of bandits. Evans and Wade agree not to get in each other’s way at this point in a subtly negotiated treaty. The two seem to be connected as two sides of the same coin, and it is obvious that Evans’ oldest, William (Logan Lerman, “The Number 23”), admires the outlaw for the ease of control over his world that his father seems to lack.

Russell Crowe (“Cinderella Man”) imbues Wade with confident and charismatic warmth that is starkly contrasted by cold outbursts of violence against those who have something he wants and even those who profess their loyalty to him. It is clear Wade is a man with standards, some sort of code, but it is a dark justice which he dispenses with his pistol that has become known as the Hand of God. Wade has consciously chosen not to be a force of good.

Evans, on the other hand, struggles to be good despite his desperate straits. His financial situation forces him to take a role in Wade’s fate after the criminal is captured by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The problem is that Wade’s entire gang is still on the loose. Led by Wade’s second in command, Charlie Prince, they will inevitably attempt to rescue him.

Crowe and Bale do a wonderful job establishing their symbiotic relationship. Bale in particular capitalizes on his unique ability to reflect the moral battlefield a man must embark on just to survive. But while these two actors offer more layered portrayals of the archetypal good guy and bad guy, it is Ben Foster’s wholly bad Prince who threatens to steal the show. Prince is at once entirely unpredictable and yet staunchly loyal to his boss, Ben Wade. Foster (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) teeters on the edge of a visceral explosion of evil throughout the story and still commands the respect of a good leader from Wade’s men. Peter Fonda (“Ghost Rider”) offers a note of classic western grace with his bounty hunter, Byron McElroy.

While Mangold and his screenwriters present a thickly layered tale of morality, they also are willing to embrace the violence with which the western is so immediately associated. “3:10 to Yuma” incorporates more action sequences than most modern westerns since their transformation from classic action pictures in the late sixties. It also succeeds in referencing more classic western ingredients than have been seen in a while, like the threat of Indians, a double-crossing posse, the long shot of the pursuant posse, the Gatling gun, and even the rooftop shootout.

“3:10 to Yuma” is a taught and engaging action picture with a depth that can only be captured in a unique art form like the American Western. It will be regarded as a classic that can comfortably sit with great modern westerns like “Unforgiven”, “Open Range”, and “The Proposition,” as well as classics such as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “Stagecoach,” and “High Noon”. The western is far from dead, but like many of its greatest protagonists, it just refrains from speaking until it has something worth saying.

Buy it: 3:10 to Yuma movies and books

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