Sunday, September 09, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

Director: James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted, Identity)
Story: Elmore Leonard
Screenplay: Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Producer: Cathy Konrad
Starring: Russel Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 117 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
     As a big fan of the contemporary western, I have to admit I go into my screening of 3:10 to Yuma with a bit of a bias, some high expectations and quite a load of excitement. I think it was this excitement and expectation that led to my slight disappointment in the film. Although worth the price of admission (especially since we only get a western genre round these parts once every three years), don't expect the Oscar worthy film that you might've heard about.

      Dan Evans (Bale) is a simple rancher supporting a family and who is having trouble making ends meet with a ruthless landowner. When Ben Wade (Crowe), the most wanted and dangerous man in the territory, is captured in Dan's small town, for $200 Dan agrees to help escort Wade by horseback to the larger town of Contention, where he is to get Wade on a train into Yuma for a trial and hanging. Unfortunately for Dan, Wade's gang will stop at nothing to free their boss and kill anything or anyone who gets in their way.

      The film is as much a psycological look into the human conscience as it is an action picture. Throughout the journey to Contention, Wade uses subtle, verbal manipulation with his captors to mess with their heads and almost get them to turn against one another (ala Hannibal Lector). Although he seems mild mannered and polite, the audience knows this is a ruthless man, who at any moment, might snap and go on a brutal rampage. Meanwhile, although Dan needs the money, almost more important to him is showing his disappointed, 14 year-old son that he is a courageous man who is more than just a cowardly ranch hand. Things get sticky when Dan's son shows up to "help" with the prisoner escort.

      As I said, I enjoyed the picture for the most part, but it had a lot of problems. As I scanned the critic's synopses at Rotten Tomatoes, they seemed to all praise the picture, but I noticed that they all said pretty much the same thing: the film really doesn't have a whole lot going for it, other than the tremendous acting. I have to concur. Bale is his usual terrific self and the scenes in which he confronts his family are heartfelt and believable. Oscar winner Crowe's performance is as subtle as it is glaring. Every bit of dialogue between these two characters, although usually smooth and down-toned, is actually very thrilling and calculated in its cunning.

      However, it's actor Ben Foster who darn near steals the show here; with his psychopathic, blood-thirsty role as Wade's right hand man, hell bent on catching up with the escort and freeing his friend. Foster, who is no stranger to the psychopath role (Hostage, Alpha Dog) looks like the echo of a man with a soul. His glazed over eyes; wiry, mismanaged facial hair and a trigger finger that knows no boundaries gives this guy the presence of evil incarnate. Although maybe a valuable asset in a gun fight, why anyone would want a man like this within 100 miles is beyond me. Foster makes this character his own and infuses a lot thrills into what otherwise, for the most part, is a dialogue driven picture.

      The problems with the movie are many. Not the least of which is Mangold's directing style. Gone are the wide, panoramic, vista shots of the frontier that westerns of today are notorious for (and partly what makes them so gorgeous to look at) in their stead are character close-ups and shaky-cam action sequences (the opening wagon robbery is headache inducing). Admittedly, this is a character driven film in which the strengh of the picture lies with the A-list actors and Mangold seems to recognize this, but I longed for some gorgeous scenery shots that give us some sort of perspective of southern Arizona.

      The biggest problem with the picture is the unrealistic escapism which we're expected to take with a grain of salt. The entire journey from Bisbee to Contention is wrought with bullet holes, figuratively speaking, care of a trio of script writers. I can accept some fallacy in story lines, but when they are so frequent and so deep that it takes me away from the feel and intent of the plot, they are impossible to overlook. Crowe's character gets the jump on his captors more than once. This happens for two reasons: one, this is quite possibly the dumbest group of protagonists I've seen on screen in quite some time (why is the most dangerous man in America allowed to roam around with loose fitting cuffs IN FRONT of his body again?); and two, the director doesn't feel the need to explain things. One moment Wade is at gun point by three men, the next there is black screen fade and now we see Wade riding into town on his own having magically overpowered his captors. The entire story is riddled with these moments of head scratching.

      Although the climactic gun battle in 3:10 to Yuma is very reminiscent of Kevin Costner's, fantastic, 2003 film, Open Range, Crowe's character change in the third act is so preposterous that I found myself sighing out of annoyance more than out of relief. Besides this, by this point my emotional involvement with these characters was far less than with the cattle drivers of Open Range. This scene had me screaming internally.

      The entire experience reminds me of the old B&W television westerns of the 1940's. None of the bad guys can shoot straight, a simple storyline that has to be hashed out quickly and a completely unbelievable final act. Although it does try, this is not the glorious western film that we have, unfortunately, seen so few of in the last five years or so - The Proposition and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada come to mind. It is a colorized, Hollywood remake of what should be a great, psychological thriller, set in the old west.

      Despite the ludocrity of the story line, the well envisioned set pieces, a cast of tremendous characters, some fun gunplay and some excellent moments of dialogue really do help the film rise above being a total disaster. Mangold has now made a name for himself as a director of bringing out great performances with otherwise mediocre story-telling (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted and Cop Land). The dynamic of the two leads, both yearning for a piece of what the other is, really makes for a compelling idea. Unfortunately, an idea isn't always realized particularly well. 3:10 to Yuma is like this, but thankfully as with these other pictures mentioned, the acting and character depth are able to carry the burden on their shoulders quite well and ultimately make for a mostly enjoyable experience.

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer

IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER PROFILE for 3:10 to Yuma

Posted by Andrew James in

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  1. Wow, only 3 stars? I always go into your reviews really not knowing what to expect. I always try and guess what star rating you have given it while it’s loading:p

    Anyway I really thought you would have given it higher than that. Every review I have looked at has been mega-positive and your’s is the first fairly more negative review I’ve read. My expectations and hopes have been lowered slightly (maybe that will help!:P)

    Great review though, as always.

    Ross Miller  on  09/10  at  10:35 AM
  2. Well, pretty much everything about it was great except the story.  The story was so preposterous and had so many holes that it just totally removed me from the rest of the film which was great.

    Andrew James  on  09/12  at  05:23 AM
  3. Well, like always, to each their own. I will be seeing it on Saturday so my review should be up then or Sunday at the latest. And we shall see if I agree with you (check out my latest reviews, I have been giving films similar ratings to you lately, not on purpose......freaky:P....)

    Ross Miller  on  09/12  at  12:24 PM
  4. I saw this today, Andrew. I liked it a lot more than you did, gave it a 4 star rating. Not QUITE as good as I had heard or hoped but still a great film (ALMOST an excellent one). Check out my review at my site.

    Ross Miller  on  09/15  at  10:56 PM
  5. I’ve never liked westerns movies but there are persons who like this kind of movies

    Arizona Tours  on  01/08  at  12:57 PM
  6. I’m with Andrew. I just didn’t love love love the story as much as I love the movie itself. I can see how he feels needing to be a “whole” man again, but sometimes you should just be happy you are alive and have a woman that loves you.

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