Monday, September 17, 2007
3:10 TO YUMA (2007) - James Mangold
The western has been out in the wilderness for a while now. It’s a genre that had it’s golden age in the 1940s and 50s through the films of John Ford and star John Wayne. Sergio Leone delivered some of the greatest westerns in the 1960s, but since then, the genre has become cinematically unpopular. However, two films, released this year are thought by some to be signalling the re-emergence of the western. The second, released later this year, is The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. The first of these two films, however, is James Mangold’s remake of the 1957 film of the same name, 3:10 To Yuma.
Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 To Yuma is a simple story. Two men, with polar opposite views on life are set at odds as one of them struggles to deliver the other to trial and execution. Dan Evans is a veteran of the American Civil War. He lost a foot during the war and lives on a simple cattle farm with his wife and two sons. Evans doesn’t feel like much of a man. His farm is to be destroyed to make way for a rail line. His eldest son views him as spineless and his wife doesn’t think he’s up to much. He is given the opportunity to prove his worth as a man, and save his farm when Ben Wade, a notorious thief and murderer is captured and must be transported to a town called Contention to catch a train to Yuma where he will stand trial. Few men want to take on the dangerous task, as Wade’s gang want to set their boss free. But Evans, and a posse of men not used to handling a gun escort the criminal across the desert where a battle of wills breaks out between Evans and Wade.
The immediate strength of 3:10 To Yuma is the casting of the two central characters. Christian Bale, who cannot seem to put a foot wrong in terms of film roles plays Dan Evans. Bale has the talent to seamlessly take on the persona of every role he accepts, and he’s brilliant as Evans. He’s a man who isn’t strong in character. But he accepts the task of transporting Wade to Contention and is determined to see the task completed. If not for the cash, to prove to his eldest son, and himself that he can stand tall as a man. It’s the more difficult role to play in comparison to Ben Wade. Wade’s character is a lovable rogue. He’s a joker and a philosopher, an artist, but also a vicious killer. To be honest, it’s a role that is a bit confusing. We’re given flashes of Wade’s viciousness. We’re given glimpses into how bad a guy he is. But at the same time, we’re also expected to believe he’s got an artistic and philosophical side. It’s a bit of a cliché. However, Russell Crowe plays the part perfectly. You can’t knock him, as he didn’t write the role, but he plays it well. It is the easier of the two roles to play though.
The rest of the cast is filled with some excellent actors. Serenity’s Alan Tudyk plays the nervous Doc Potter, a comic relief role, but one Tudyk plays very well. Peter Fonda is the grizzled bounty hunter Byron McElroy. But it’s Ben Foster as Wade’s right hand man, Charlie Prince, who steals the show. Prince is a psycho with something that boarders on love for his boss. Foster has carved somewhat of a niche for playing these types of characters and clearly relishes the role.
But this isn’t just a character piece. It’s an action film too, and in this respect, Mangold doesn’t fail to deliver. The script, by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas grips you from the very beginning, and aside from one or two plot contrivances that require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, is very strong. It’s not perfect, but there’s never a boring moment, so you can’t really hold the weaknesses against it. There are some great action sequences, including a coach chase and a couple of shoot outs, standards of the genre. Overall, 3:10 To Yuma is a very good, if not perfect film. It definitely belongs up with the best of 2007. So far, it seems that the later half of 2007 is going to be the stronger in terms of film.