"Although many say the Western is dead, in books as well as movies, it continues to rear its head and make itself known every so often. There's something inherently noble and visceral about the artform and the subject matter, the calm delineation between good and evil, that stubbornly continues to attract an audience.
In 2007, the Western showed back up at the box office in a trio of films that came out roughly at the same time. 3:10 TO YUMA was the first out of the gate, but it was followed in quick order by THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.
The movie had been made fifty years ago, and much of the plot in that version made it into the remake. Both movies were based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, who has had several of his Western and crime novels made into films.
Christian Bale stars as Dan Evans, a one-legged, down-on-his-luck rancher struggling to keep a home together for his wife and two kids. Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, an intelligent and heartless outlaw who's leading one of the blood-thirstiest gangs to ever take up the owlhoot trail.
Both stars take turns stealing scenes. Bale has the hard-edged look of coarse rawhide. Crowe possesses some of the deadest eyes ever shown in movies.
One of the best portrayals in the movie was a surprise to me, though. It took me a minute to recognize Peter Fonda as professional bounty hunter turned Pinkerton agent Byron McElroy. Fonda reminded me a lot of his father Henry, but part of that is because Fonda has aged. He also delivers a quality of acting and honesty in the character that is just amazing, and he was content to carry the supporting character role and didn't try to upstage anyone.
Logan Lerman was another surprise. He stared as William Evans, Dan's 14-year-old son. I'd thought Lerman was much older, but as it turned out he was 14 when the movie was made. He was likeable and intense.
When it came to truly cold-blooded villains, though, Ben Foster as Charlie Prince totally blew me away. The hair on the back of my neck went up as soon as he stepped on stage, and within a minute I hated him.
The story is simple. Dan is struggling to make ends meet and bumps into Wade during an armored wagon job. Later, after taking Byron McElroy into town for medical attention, Dan confronts Hollander, the man who's trying to run him off his land. When Hollander won't give him an extension on his loan, Dan finds Wade and helps take him captive. Then he agrees to help transport him to Yuma for $200.
The movie quickly spins out into the action of the violent road trip. In addition to being one of the fastest gunmen around, Wade is also a skilled psychological warrior, constantly taunting his captors and seeking out their weaknesses.
The action involves traveling through hostile Indian lands, meeting up with a team of killers working the railroad coming through the area, and a final showdown in Yuma that is one of the most exciting I've ever seen in a Western.
For two hours, I sat marveling at the characters, then tensely awaiting the outcome of the latest danger they were all facing. Even then, the twists and turns of the characters, the back stories they were all hiding till the very last moment, were awesome. No one was quite who I thought they were.
Westerns succeed best by having good men with a history of bad violence and bad men who haven't completely gone over to the dark side. 3:10 TO YUMA is one of those.
One caveat I will offer to people who have seen the original movie starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, this version does NOT follow the same paths or end up the same way. Expect to be surprised and shocked at how things turn out. And you'll be tense nearly the whole way through. "
The classic Old West is Back
Jean Pierre Salazar | Stamford, CT | 12/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Western genre is pretty rare nowadays--the Hollywood of today usually prefers other kinds of films (we feel you Clint Eastwood). Fortunately for the die-hard fans of the classic Spaghetti Western, the waiting is over. 3:10 to Yuma is one of the best Western film in years and probably one of the best films of 2007 overall. Not only we get excellent performances by Crowe and Bale, but the film captures the Western film traditions from the past--everything from a compelling story with a sense of justice and great gun action. Read on and I tell you, even if you're not a fan of Western, why you have to watch this extraordinary film.
Brief Intro Story: The Old West is hard place to live, not only you have to deal with criminals and desert weather, but also with creditors who can be just as dangerous.
Things are not going well financially for the crippled family guy Dan Evans (Christian Bale) who has to support his wife Alice and two sons--he didn't pay the bills and his creditors burned his barn. As he is going back to town with his kids to complain about what happened, they see the famous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) with his vicious gang who just busted a wagon full of cash (killing almost everybody). The gang members see Evans and his kids, but Wade (the boss of the gang) decides to only take their horses and leaves them standing there, but the gang makes a mistake--they left one wounded man. The gang goes to town and while Wade is alone and having fun with a local girl, he gets captured by the authorities while he is talking to Evans--who made it to town anyways. But they need extra help to transport him to catch a train that will take him to prison, and that's where Evans volunteers to help--for $200 dollars. He doesn't know that transporting this infamous bandit will turn his life around.
Review: Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) has created an instant Western classic in almost every aspect. Here we find two cowboys, who are on different sides of the law, but at the same time, there is a sense of fellowship, loyalty and understanding between them--Not only their acting is impressive, there is so much chemistry on screen. In one hand, we have the outlaw Ben Wade who is a casual guy, a bit of a playboy, but he can be vicious if you push his buttons. despite all the immorality and his cockiness; he is a likeable character nevertheless. Then we have Evans who is a serious man of integrity, a loving father that will do everything he can to support his family righteously. There is a point in the film where his loyalty is put to the test, as well as the will to continue with the mission--this is the point of no return when it's not even about the money anymore. The two characters blend towards the end, they finally understand each other and create one of the best endings in recent memory.
Technically speaking, 3:10 to Yuma is a marvel to behold. We get the classic look and feel of the Old West with excellent cinematography, intense gun battle sequences and good costume design. Perhaps for many, the first act might be a bit slow, but after Wade gets captured, the film picks up with great drama and suspense. With all these great sequences, we also get excellent sound effects--which reminds me a bit of Kevin Costner's Open Range. Some of these sounds effects creates even melancholia--listen carefully, specially during the final battle.
The Verdict: We didn't know taking the train could be so difficult back in the Old West. 3:10 to Yuma will not disappoint fans of the genre. It follows the classic Western formula with great performances by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Do I see a nomination for any of these vanguard actors? I'd say yes."
Understanding why Westerns are a National Treasure
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/09/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If there is a truly unique American contribution to film making then that contribution has to be the Western. Though not as popular a theme these days as it was in past decades, it only takes a powerhouse film such as 3:10 TO YUMA to remind us just how pungent storytelling of this type can be. Yes, the story itself (based on a short story by Elmore Leonard) is rather simple: desperate farmer needs money to save his failing farm and family and signs on to escort a powerful outlaw to the train that will take him to prison. But in this screen adaptation by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, and Derek Haas the story is fleshed out by sharing with the audience the essence of the pioneer spirit and the sequelae of the Civil War on the minds of the dispossessed who turned to crime against the ruling order - the railroads and the banks represented the conquering North - and the film becomes one of profound understanding about man's plight in the pioneer West.
The landscape and atmosphere of Arizona is captured with dusty accuracy by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael and sets the stage for director James Mangold ('Girl, Interrupted', 'Walk the Line', 'Identity', 'Kate and Leopold', 'Cop Land') to work with his talented cast to give a realistic view of life in the hard times of the old West. Russell Crowe is the notorious outlaw Ben Wade whose gang includes such actors as Ben Foster and Rio Alexander and once he is captured during a robbery, the local sheriff promises to pay $200. to destitute, crippled farmer Dan Evans to escort the prisoner to Contention, AZ for catching a ride to the 3:10 to Yuma and prison. The connection between the two disparate men - Wade and Evans - is the message of the story and is beautifully enhanced by allowing the audience to understand both sides of 'the law'. The co-stars of the film include Gretchen Mol as Evans' wife and young Logan Lerman as Evans' impressionable son William, Dallas Roberts as the head of the bank investment at risk, Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, Vinessa Shaw and a large cast of the people who interplay in the drama.
Both Crowe and Bale give superlative performances, acting so cohesively that it would be difficult to single out either for the Oscar: this is ensemble acting at its finest. For once the added features enhance our appreciation of the tales from the Old West and how they became legends and the comments by the director, producers and cast actually make sense! The film will doubtless become a classic: it deserves the honor. Grady Harp, January 08"
I wanted this film to be great.
A. Grace | Michigan | 01/31/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I love the Western myth too much to like this film, which does injustice to the savvy of Western characters in general, and to the Code that drives every classic Western. In these things, it becomes a pseudo-Western; if it *does* revive the Western genre, I hope its successors don't commit its same atrocities.
The film is an exercise in Implausible Plotting. Cowboys and lawmen of the Old West escort a Notorious Outlaw across the wilderness and leave his hands cuffed in front of him, even after he kills two of the escort party in ways he never could have done had they just bothered to tie him up. Said cowboys and lawmen send a decoy "outlaw" in a stagecoach to throw the bad guys off the trail of the escort, and they just happen to lock the unfortunate decoy in the stage *for real* without giving him a key, so he can burn to death when the gang catches up and discovers his identity. Said cowboys and lawmen, armed and holding the higher ground, look out a hotel window to engage in conversation with the Notorious Outlaw's psychotically murderous gang, and then allow them to ride away unaccosted after several death threats, so the carnage can come later. What sane person would behave as these characters do? They act stupidly so dramatic tension can last longer.
Yes, the scenery is lovely. Yes, the acting is pretty much flawless, but who would have expected less from Crowe and Bale? The character actions and the conclusion are the problem here. After seeing this film, my 18-year-old brother remarked, "Well, if that was reality, I'd definitely wanna be on the side of the bad guys ... all the good guys were either stupid or wimpy." That is not the Western myth; that is the antithesis of the Western myth."
Hollywooded to the Hilt
Harvey A. Lewis | Greenwood, AR United States | 01/16/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The actors are good, the scenery is good, the cinematography is good and the costumes are good, but many elements of the story are strikingly bogus. With the people and budget he had, the director could have made this film an Oscar nominee instead of an awful mess. For example - early in the action the bad guys get in line-abreast in front of the stagecoach they are robbing, and charge like cavalry, giving the coachmen the maximum opportunity to shoot at them, then they get behind the coach where they can be shot with the gatling gun. Nobody smart enough the get on a horse is going to be that stupid. They would drop a tree or big rock in the road and shoot from behind cover. Another example is the bounty hunter. He is shot in the stomach from close range. That can be dicey in the best modern trauma wards. At that time and place it was a death wound, but he is on his feet later that day and riding a horse the next. It was absurd. Later, they are trying to sneak thru dangerous Indian country. They stop for the night and build a bonfire. They might as well have roasted marshmellows and sung camping songs. When the Indians come and start shooting, they huddle by the fire so they can be more visible while Russell Crowe walks up to the Indians and kills them ( they don't notice him coming ). I can't describe events after that point because I ejected the DVD."