– Summary –
Director : James Mangold
Year Of Release : 2007
Principal Cast : Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk, Gretchen Mol, Vinessa Shaw, Kevin Durand, Luce Rains, Luke Wilson, Lennie Loftin.
Approx Running Time : 122 Minutes
Synopsis: A sheriff transporting an outlaw to a train station across the state runs into trouble by the outlaw’s gang members, who are hell-bent on freeing him.
What we think : Hugely engaging Western film gives us two magnetic performances – Crowe and Ben Foster – and a rock-solid production of the classic Elmore Leonard short story. Brutal, brisk and effortlessly gripping, this version of Yuma is one train you won’t want to be late for.
Not since Open Range has a western looked, sounded, or simply been, so good. 3:10 To Yuma is a remake of the 1957 film of the same name, modernized and changed somewhat (expanded, if you will) to reflect a modern audience’s expectations. I have to admit, I have never seen the original film, nor have I read the Elmore Leonard story on which it is based. Therefore, I have no preconceived ideas about what the film should be like, or how it should feel compared with the previous source material.
Yuma is directed with a steady hand by Walk The Line helmer James Mangold, who appears to be a more conventional director than you’d think. Having a resume that reads like a who’s who of Hollywood in his pocket (Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted, Identity, Kate & Leopold) means that this man has something people like. Mangold appears to eschew showmanship in favor of the story (something a lot of other Hollywood directors could learn to do!) which leaves Yuma wide open to comments about how bland it might be, how un-Western it all appears from the outset. But a dedication to the story, rather than flashy visuals, is something to be commended, and in this instance, I think Yuma is a great example of how to tell a good story, develop great character, without sacrificing your soul for the sake of another visual effects shot. 3:10 To Yuma, however, is not without its faults (more on which later) so don’t expect another Unforgiven or (the aforementioned) Open Range.
What James Mangold has created is a world of the shady, the shadow, the ruthless killers and those who would try and stop them. The dust ekes from every pore of the film, the grungy realism threatens to overwhelm the film’s high dramatic impetus, all with the restrained and somewhat flat performances by Christian Bale and Russell Crowe to lead the way. Bale and Crowe are a somewhat mismatched pair, although to be honest, I thought Bale looked more out of place than Crowe did, with Crowe having donned the cowboy boots before in films such as The Quick & The Dead. The thing about a western film, no matter how “high concept” it is, how “Oscar bait” it manages to be, is that they are always filled with the great western cliche: that bad bastard who kills kids and women, spits throughout every single scene, and has that kind of facial scar that makes modern plastic surgeons shiver with fear. Crowe perfectly captures that bad bastard, although he is completely outshone by an almost unrecogniseable Ben Foster (Hostage, Get Over It) as the evil Charlie Prince, Crowe’s right hand man and rescuer, who shoots first, doesn’t ask questions later.
Bale, on the other hand, looks a little uncomfortable in his role, as Dan Evans, a crippled rancher looking to save his farm and family from a drought that has ravaged the land for years. It was his character that I struggled to really embrace, almost as if he was teetering on the brink of a great role, but never quite getting it. His relationship with his teenage (and obviously pubescent) son is actually quite well developed, although the son seems to be more interesting than the father!
The story revolves around Bale having to help transport wanted killer Crowe to the nearest prison train (to Yuma), and the character conflict that evolves around it. Bale needs the reward money, and Crowe is languidly awaiting rescue by his gang (led by Foster). The film flits between locations and action moments, almost with little pause, but slowly you begin to get a handle on the two protagonists, until the denouement where things, as they always do in a western, go wrong.
As previously mentioned, there are a couple of issues with the film: the main one being that Mangold can’t seem to create a whole deal of chemistry for Bale. His wife (played by Gretchen Mol) is almost mere lip-service to Bale’s glowering rancher, he has no time for her and blames that fairly and squarely on the drought, and their concurrent financial situation. It’s a thankless role, with little real character, and appears merely a cipher for Bale’s pent up rage [frustration] that causes him to accept the task of transporting Crowe. Crowe, meanwhile, seems content to smirk his was through the film, almost as if he knows it’s all one big joke, although his character certainly seems too relaxed for my liking. There never seemed to be much that could worry Crowes’ Ben Wade character, which means that when the fan gets hit, your emotional connection with the man is limited to say the least.
The other issue is something that I actually found surprising with Mangold’s direction. The film seems primarily to be a series of set pieces, a kind of western skit show without the comedy; we move from town, to the farm, to the trail, the mountains, the plains, then back to a larger town, all without seeming to be really connected as part of the same film. Characters are introduced and die almost indiscriminately, and while this could in some way be passed off as realistic (after all, the Wild West was a period where murder proliferated to the highest extremes) it’s simply confusing to the audience. The Doctor, played with gulping nervousness by Alan Tudyk (a great actor by way of Firefly and I, Robot) is introduced with little formality, and dispatched in equal dispassion. Peter Fonda (yes, the Peter Fonda) is given little character development his role as a bounty hunter for the railroad company.
But it’s the lack of overall cohesion in the story that made me ponder it a little: the film looks and sounds fantastic, and the cast really do give their all, however I think the problem with the film comes down to a simple matter of editing. I could imagine there’s plenty of material that was left on the cutting room floor (or in the computer’s trash bin!) that would go a long way to restoring Mangold’s vision for the film. There just reeks too much of studio interference in this cut to me.
Still, as far as western movies go, 3:10 To Yuma is a worthy addition to the genre, something that tries hard to explore themes of loneliness, retribution and redemption. Whether it succeeds is subjective to your thoughts on Crowe and Bale in the lead role, but for me, the film works a little, and fails only slightly.