Barry’s Score: 7/10
Before the lights went down and the film started, I turned to my friend and fellow Screen Geek Dave and said, “I hope this one’s great.” His response: “I just hope it’s a good western.” He has an excellent point. Following the box office disaster of “The Alamo” and Brad Pitt’s Jesse James film getting pushed back a whole year, things have not looked so good for one of the oldest genres in Hollywood. The musical genre is back and flourishing (thanks to “Dreamgirls”, “Hairspray” and, likely, this fall’s “Sweeney Todd”), but the western genre has fallen on hard times, yet again. Funny, how the westerns and musicals were once the two most popular kinds of movies Hollywood turned out (the two most popular genres now? Sequels and Remakes, I suppose).
Thankfully, James Mangold’s “3:10 To Yuma” (yes, its a remake, but a good one at that), is a solid reminder why this genre works so well. The best westerns are generally morality tales set during a dusty, downright primitive time when violence was the sole means of solving any conflict. Many westerns have glamourized, even romanticized this period, but Mangold’s tense, always compelling film portrays a dangerous, merciless frontier world.
The plot is simple but unfolds with patience and conviction: farmer and all around good guy Dan Evans (played by Christian Bale) agrees to join a posse intending to put the deadly Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) on a train that will lead to his imprisonment. The set-up gives us telling character moments and an exciting chase/shoot-out, rather than rushing to get the general plot line in motion.
Bale is touching as the down-on-his-luck father who willingly takes a stand for what he believes to be the right thing, but it’s Crowe’s movie and he puts in one of his best performances in a while. After being badlly miscast by Ridley Scott as a “likeable” chap in “A Good Year”, Crowe is effectively cast as a villain, but one with dark charm, snake-eyed smarts and genuine depth. The result is a great pairing of two actors, who make the physical and psychological battle-of-wits between their characters suspenseful and real. The rest of the cast does solid work, particularly Ben Foster, memorable in nasty turn as Wade’s #1 henchman.
Mangold’s film has a pace and music score that give it a different rhythm than most American films. In fact, the spirit of Leone is all over this one and fans of Spaghetti westerns will be delighted, as character, atmosphere and plot (in that order) take priority over shoot-outs and sunsets. Though the film is not as thrilling (in the action department) as “Tombstone” or
“Open Range”, its still an intellgent, gripping and (best of all) surprising film nonetheless.