Published at: Aug. 20, 2007, 11:06 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Is it possible that the western might not be dead?
We’ll see when 3:10 TO YUMA opens. Because this film is a real western. I hesitate to call it a throw-back because that implies it’s aping a particular style.
There have been some good westerns since UNFORGIVEN… I’m particularly fond of THE PROPOSITION, but even that is kind of the “twist” on the Western. It’s a stylistic western. Those are the types we’re given. Not much, but at least something for those of us who love westerns.
From the very first note played during the opening title of 3:10 TO YUMA you know you are in for an honest to god, real life western. No modern bells and whistles, no post-modern twist or catch, but a real western that is proud to be one and goes for it all the way.
I’ve seen the original film starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin and I really dug it. In fact, it was one of two westerns that changed my mind about the genre. My dad was really into westerns and I guess I kind of revolted.
Then, as a young teen, I saw THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and 3:10 TO YUMA within a month of each other and that wall dropped. I even started getting into the early James Bond movies that my dad loved. So much for my revolution…
James Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA could be a case study on how to approach a remake. One, you find a title that has a fantastic premise. Check. Two, you make sure that title needs a reason for a fresh take on it. In this case, it’s a great, approachable western, a tale about two opposing forces surrounded by many colorful characters. With a great cast and a good director this story was ripe for a grand retelling.
List off the best remakes. You get… THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE MALTESE FALCON, John Carpenter’s THE THING… every one of those brought something special to a great story (not to mention they’re all based on a book or novella). In the cases of THE WIZARD OF OZ and THE MALTESE FALCON they brought the story unto the realm of talking pictures. With Carpenter’s THE THING, he took a premise and amped it up to its full potential, stressing the paranoia and making it an effects spectacular, something we’ve never seen before.
I’ll need to see 3:10 TO YUMA a few more times before I can put it in the same league as those above, but I will say upon my first viewing I found the film to be great.
If you’re not familiar with the story (originally written by Elmore Leonard) it’s about a down on his luck rancher (Christian Bale) who has just been through the ringer. Life has chewed him up and spit him out, but still… this man has found it within himself to be a gentle and kind being.
One day he stumbles across a robbery in progress. A stage coach is being violently taken by the great outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe). A man of charm, surprising sophistication and extreme intelligence. He doesn’t interfere, but from this moment on the rancher’s fate is entwined with this outlaw.
It comes to pass that Crowe is separated from his gang, a group of savages it should be noted, and is caught by the law. However, the gang is going to do whatever they can to get their number one out of custody.
So, it becomes a race to get the outlaw to another city where he’ll catch the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison. The railroad is funding this transport, an investment in keeping Wade from robbing them blind. Bale signs up and you have a movie where two of our greatest working actors chew up scenery together.
I know Crowe gets a lot of shit. A truck load of it, but I can’t imagine watching this film and not wanting to join up with his gang. He’s got the charisma, the charm and the badassness. He so fits the western. I even loved him as the repentant gunslinging preacher in Sam Raimi’s THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. It’s good to see him back in the desert.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have Christian Bale, another fantastic actor, but one that doesn’t get as much shit… I guess it’s because he’ll chop up girls in one movie and then strap on the cape and cowl to rescue them in another. Bale continues his amazing run. It’s his year. If his work in this film or RESCUE DAWN doesn’t get some nominations I’ll be shocked.
James Mangold did a great job shooting this thing as well as balancing his two stars. You really see them as equals and you like them both. In fact, I came to a point where I was completely torn. I didn't want to see Ben Wade make the train because I liked the guy and wanted him to get away. But I also like Bale's character and want to see him get paid off for delivering Wade to the train. It's a fascinating bit of gray that you don't see in most studio pictures. You don't often care just as much for the antagonist as the protagonist.
Mangold also did a fantastic job of casting the supporting roles. Ben Foster is bugfuck nuts in this movie. He’s terrifying. He’s Crowe’s number two and the one leading the gang to get him back at any cost. There’s a quiet insanity to him throughout the movie. I don’t know if that’s there all the time (maybe… I saw him at Comic-Con and he looked a little twitchy), but goddamn is it effective in this movie.
Peter Fonda also turns in a great, audience pleasing tough old bastard bounty hunter role. It’s so great to see Fonda so awesome up on the screen again. This dude is a badass and he takes the movie dead seriously. An easy favorite character with some of the best dialog in the movie.
There are a lot of great faces in the movie, but I have to point out Gretchen Mol as Bale’s wife and Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter. Mol is still beautiful and plays a rather thankless role. She loves her husband and family, but she’s also tired of their living conditions. If Mol hadn’t played it with just the right balance of stern and love then the character could have become completely unlikable.
Tudyk again gives us a funny, but sweet character. He’s pretty fantastic in the movie, but I worry he might start typecasting himself. You’ll see why if you’re a Tudyk fan…
Mangold also deserves a lot of credit for keeping modern filmmaking out of sight. I think there might be one explosion that is digitally altered, but even that I'm not sure about. There could be digital work all over the movie, but my eye never caught it. It felt totally old school. Just the actors and what they can capture with a moving picture camera.
No review of this film, no heaping of praise, is complete without mentioning Marco Beltrami’s score. I’ve honestly never really been a big fan of his music. I think my favorite scores he’s done were on SCREAM and HELLBOY, but most of the time I don’t really dig on his music, but damn. He knocked it out of the park here. It’s not comically western, but it’s so western through and through. It could be over the top if it wasn’t so damn good.
So, rejoice. There is finally a great western on the silver screen again and it’s not only a smart character movie, but an action flick… a good action flick. I’m excited to see it again.